The future of the space race

CCTV News

Tiangong-2 Illustration

The space race of the 1960’s between the former Soviet Union and the United States was about power, bragging rights which nation was technologically superior.

Today, the space race is well, maybe a brisk walk. And the three major space faring nations the U.S., China and Russia appear at this point, headed in different directions. So where are the big three going?

CCTV special correspondent John Zarrella gave is this special report.

The future of the space race

The future of the space race

The three major space faring nations - U.S., China and Russia - appear at this point, headed in different directions. So where each of the big three going?

Since the Shuttle Atlantis landed back at the Kennedy Space Center five years ago, the U.S. has not had the capability to put humans in space.

The U.S. relies on the Russians, at a cost of $65 million a seat, to carry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. That could change by 2018 when private companies Boeing and Space X should have vehicles ready to ferry astronauts. With these Station missions turned over to private companies, NASA, the U.S. space agency is now concentrating on building a massive new rocket and a spacecraft, Orion, to carry astronauts first to an asteroid rendezvous and then Mars in the 2030s. Some U.S. partners would like to see a moon mission as a stepping stone to Mars. But NASA rarely uses the moon and Mars in the same sentence.

China on the other hand seems destined and determined to send humans to the moon.

CHANG'E 5

The far side of the Moon, as seen by China’s Chang’e-5-T1 test mission launched in 2014 (Courtesy: SASTIND)

Methodically and in measured steps, China is building toward a permanent presence in space. The Tiangong 2 Space Lab with improved living quarters and life support will be home to two Chinese astronauts for at least thirty days conducting experiments in physics, biology and space medicine. A mission to put a lander on the moon’s dark side is in the works for 2018. And a permanent space station could be in orbit by the early 2020s.

All are precursors to landing its astronauts on the moon. Russia would like to go to the moon too. But the country’s struggling economy has forced a tightening of the space budget. Plans for a powerful new rocket that would take cosmonauts to the moon is delayed. But the Russians are still planning a sample return mission in the 2020’s and eyeing a 2030 lunar landing. A morale boost could come this week.

A joint Russia-European Space Agency probe is scheduled to deploy a rover to the Martian surface. Russia’s last successful planetary probe was in 1984. One unanswered question is whether Russia and United States will go their separate ways if the International Space Station’s mission ends as planned in 2024 or continue to play in the same sandbox.

What happens in the future with the big three space powers will likely come down to politics -as it usually does. Outside of cooperation in space, the U.S.-Russia relationship is strained and that may well spill over into space relations. China was never a part of the space station family of nations.

And, the U.S. congress forbids NASA from cooperating with China. So, China has been going it alone quite nicely. But nobody is getting along very well. It is possible that by the middle of the next decade, all three will be going their own ways -and perhaps all in different directions.


John Horack and panel discuss the direction of space exploration

To discuss the potential futures for space exploration and China’s role, CCTV America’s panel spoke to John Horack. Horack is Neil Armstrong Chair in Aerospace Policy at Ohio State University.

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