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Space Government Politics

The Why of Space Program Races 251

Posted by Zonk
from the go-esa dept.
Deinhard writes "USA Today is running a story about the "why" behind the newly rekindled international space race. From the article: 'The science of space raises levels in areas such as computers, space materials, manufacturing technology, electronic equipment, systems integration and testing.' While it is a matter of national pride, China in specific also sees this as a way to increase the reputation of its high-tech exports."
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The Why of Space Program Races

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  • by LeonGeeste (917243) * on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @04:56PM (#13820826) Journal
    If you've seen my posts on this issue before, you probably know how I hate these justifications for space research See:

    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=164516&cid=137 33897 [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=165623&cid=138 20378 [slashdot.org]

    http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=164705&cid=137 47052 [slashdot.org]

    Long story short, if you want better computers, research better computers. If you want better materials, research better materials. You shouldn't say "Invest in ways to get into space so we can make better materials". And you shouldn't say "Space research is good because it gets us better computers." It was the computer research that produced the benefit, irrespective of whether that research is "for space" or not. Don't use peripheral gains to justify a different goal. Just say what you mean.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:07PM (#13820945)
      Your missing the point. It does China no good to have better computers if nobody else knows about it. The whole point for China is to sell their products. They need a vehicle to demonstrate their competative improvements they have made in their technicle capabilities. TFA even pointed out China's space effort was not a "crash course" 2 missions in two years is not really much of a space effort. What it does do is get a lot of international press saying WOW! look what they can do! They are hoping that this will make people think "look a chinese car if they can put a guy in space they must make a decent car" rather then "look a chinese car what a piece of crap from an underdeveloped nation".

      So yes your point is well taken but there is no point for the Chinese uless they can sell those advancements and the space program is their billboard. Whether it works or not is debateable and yet to be seen but thats the point in this case anyway.
    • by mbkennel (97636) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:07PM (#13820946)
      It was a proxy for development of ICBM technology. An ICBM warhead is a satellite whose orbit happens to intersect the surface of the earth.

      Having the capability for heavy lift, accurate guidance, precise orbital adjustments and robust communication shows that your ICBMs are probably also just as good, without divulging specific classified technological details.

      Basic research is very good (and underfunded and underappreciated) but there is also something significant to be learned when basic research is applied to a rigorous problem, e.g. space technology, before it has to hit the commercial market.

      There is the "valley of death" in R&D development: it takes about 25 years from a technology to go from lab discovery to commercial development.

      Academic development does the first 7 years, by then it is "old" and professors can't really write good papers or get good grants and tenure dicking around with small things.

      Commercial development funds the last 2 years only.

      The middle is the Valley of Death and you need some kind of funding source and goal to take technologies from a lab formula to a product of economic significance.
      • by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:33PM (#13821227)
        I agree govt. ought to fund research to bridge academic and commercial interests, but that is apart from the parent's argument - that space research sometimes proceeds on weak justification by touting gains in other fields. To me, your argument that "China wants ICMBs" is much more concrete (and believable) than the argument that China wants to discover next-generation Tang or Velcro.

        That said, why did the USSR give up on the moon after failing to be first, whereas China still wants to go? Your explanation of demonstrating capability might explain China's actions, but not those of the USSR.


      • Since the chances of the US using an ICBM have dropped to near 0, how about changing the direction of our efforts.

        Putting firecrackers underneath trash cans (chemical rockets) are cool and impressive, but they're a terrible way to get things in to space. the Apollo program in the 60s used drafting boards, adding machines, rotary phones, and liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen rocket engines. We've completely replaced all of those technologies except the rocket engines.

        The day someone commits billions of dollars

        • We haven't completely replaced all of those technologies.

          Drafters still like to use drafting boards, even when they've got advanced CAD tools sitting right next to them. Technology has not managed to obviate the need for a drafting board.

          Adding machines? Have you been in a store lately that wasn't run by a multi-national meglomaniac corporation? Many smaller stores and businesses still don't put a PC at the front desk, instead they use big fat 70's looking calculators. Even when they do have PCs, they o
      • "An ICBM warhead is a satellite whose orbit happens to intersect the surface of the earth."

        Wrong limiting case. Orbit is a ballistic arc that continually misses. It's easier to put something in a ballistic arc (Freedom 7, SpaceShip 1) than it is to put something into orbit (Vostok 1, Friendship 7). Anybody that can put something into LEO can build an ICBM, but not everybody that can build an ICBM can put something into LEO.

        The USA/USSR space race was pure politics that spun off from missile technology.
    • The argument that space research helps technology in general is at least somewhat true. My partner was a chemistry student during the space race working on perfecting liquid crystal desplays as they were safer and used considerably less energy than any other available technology. People probably didn't even consider such uses of LCD until it was needed for space travel. We have NASA to thank for the displays you are probably reading this on.
    • by dajak (662256) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:22PM (#13821099)
      I agree in the case of the US. Nobody doubts Americans have the knowledge to make good products, although that doesn't necessarily translate to good value for money. The German government never needed to go to the moon for its manufacturers to acquire a reputation for quality.

      The Japanese, however, suffered for a long time from a reputation acquired in the early 20th century of being yellow monkeys who merely made bad copies of our great white man's gadgets. The Chinese government actually has an argument for wanting the biggest buildings, a space program etc. Chinese products ARE worth less because they are considered inferior, and Chinese achievements will increase the value of the trademark 'Chinese'. The US does not have that argument.
      • Uhhh, you forget that it was German technology that went to the moon and most people outside the USA, where there are real public schools that actually teaches something, know that.
        • Uhhh, you forget that it was German technology that went to the moon and most people outside the USA, where there are real public schools that actually teaches something, know that.

          A space race is definitely a better way to show off technology than a world war. But Germany's reputation for quality technology predates WWII, and V2 missiles, just like Japan's image problem (that lasted into the eighties).
    • by AviLazar (741826) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:29PM (#13821180) Journal
      As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Our journey to space has brought us many great technologies...maybe they would have come about anyhow, but they DEFINITELY did come out because of our space endeavors. Some items: Flame retardant material used on the space ship to protect the astronauts is used in fire fighter equipment. Microwave (you know the stuff people use to cook with) was invented for astronauts. Satellite technology - yea those satellites sure don't get up there on their own. There are plenty of other examples.

      There are many reasons to explore space:
      1)It is an endeavor that will help bind many of us together - look at the projects we do with other countries that surround space travel, even during the cold war -it was one of the few positive connections we had with Russia
      2)We are explorers - we always have been...because we first ventured beyond our cave and discovered fire, and then explored accross the ocean to bring us to a new land, and from there we found that we could fly...space is the next step..this is fuel for our souls.
      3)The research done can yield new techniques, technologies, etc that may have a benefit to our everyday lives - just reference my example's above.
      4)We may not be alone, and while we won't find life (probably) in this generation or the next ten, we eventually will
      5)For the tin-foil hat folks - well some asteroid is bound to destroy us eventually, it would be nice if we were say spread out on different planets.
      6)Travelling to space and doing research may bring more knowledge to us about us.


      I don't care what we use to justify exploration into space, as long as we get there. Unfortunately, our elected officials and all those people who look at the bottom line want to see immediate benefits. You tell them we should spend 50 billion so we can find out that Mars may have had a couple of water molecules 3 million years and politicians will laugh; on the other hand, you tell them that by doing this research we could find a way to bring resources from Mars that will make our lives easier then they are more likely to consider it.
      • by bluGill (862) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:40PM (#13821304)

        Flame retardant material used on the space ship to protect the astronauts is used in fire fighter equipment.

        Not to mention flame retardant material developed for use in movies.

        Microwave (you know the stuff people use to cook with) was invented for astronauts.

        No, Microwave was invented when engineers noticed that candybars in the pockets started to melt when they stood in front of WWII radar. (which wasn't a smart thing to do, but in the war you cared more about winning than your own life). After the war those engineers worked on making a product out of it. The first Microwaves were used on luxury ships because they were too large for any home (note that today many home microwaves have a large oven chamber and more power than those first ones)

        Now I will grant that some things have come sooner because of space research. However what is the cost in things that we could have now if engineers hadn't been focused on space? This question cannot of course be answered, which is why I reject all arguments that space was really good for us. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, since we don't have a proper scientific controlled experiment we cannot know.

        • "[...] I reject all arguments that space was really good for us. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't, since we don't have a proper scientific controlled experiment we cannot know."

          I'll agree that it's a "Virtual History" question and that there is no way of knowing whether there could have been other paths. But the benefits of space research are proven and should not be ignored. What you're questioning shouldn't be the benefits of space research but, instead, whether there are other better ways to achieve the s
          • Your analogy is wrong. You have consider taking I5, and CA-22. How you never considered teleportation, helicopter, or airplanes. Your thinking is constrained because the US and your state put a lot of money into building roads.

            If your state had not put money into roads, and thus your road choices were dirt (not even gravel) tracks, you would have developed other modes of transportation. Because you are not the only one in the position of needing to get home from work, there would be great demands fo

        • by ghoul (157158) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @12:59AM (#13824217)
          The thing is you have to have some kind of candy to tempt the smart kids. Let me elaborate. In grade school the smartest kids can figure out they can have a much easier time in college and a richer life if they become Doctors and Lawyers than Engineers and Scientists. So why do these kids go into Engineering. It is the dream of mega projects like the Space program. Of course most Engineers dont make it to NASA but they spend their lives in guilt thinking they are not good enough and work their asses off for private industry hence providing the life blood of the country. Take away the space program, military research(which is cool in a nerdish way) and soon all you would have left would be Doctors, Lawyers , Plumbers and others who feed off the misery and misfortune of others. The politicians understand this better than you do hence they continue the funding
    • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:30PM (#13821187) Journal
      Sounds great. Lets just invent a bunch of solutions wether or not they have probelms. I bet Henry Ford could have just invented the Assembly line with building something. I'm sure Ugg said "I build round disk that rolls on ground, someday we find use for it." People don't invent things for the sake of inventing them.

      "Necessity is the mother of invention." -someone

      Space research is a Necessity that will birth the inventions. You're putting the cart before the horse, as they say.
    • by dominator (61418) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:42PM (#13821331) Homepage
      Your argument assumes a few things - most notably, that progress is linear and not sporadic and tangential. That if you want better computers, you should invest in better computers. But to accept that is to accept that interesting solutions to some hard, seemingly unrelated problem apply less well than dedicated research in that specialized domain. I don't accept that. Or that better computers are sufficient motivation in their own right. As an engineer, the carrot offered by space-age research has one heck of a better coolness factor than just earning another paycheck.

      Pushing up against the limits often yields the most interesting ideas. And space is one of those big, cold limits that stoke the fires of our imaginations and our resourcefulness. The cube at Intel can't hold a candle.

      Having a bunch of smart folks with a budget and a mission, sitting around in a room is a great investment, in large part because of its peripheral benefits. Not everything's planned. Not all development is linear. And not all significant discoveries are immediately relevant. Science for science's sake. Coz it's cool and we get to reap the benefits of its coolness.
    • or, to say more correctly, technological advancements partially justify manned space programs.

      you said in a previous post:

      "Hey, all you entrepreneurs working on technologies to satisfy actual human desires: STOP. Give us money so we can show the Ruskies where it's it."

      Do you deny the strategic advantages of space? Do you have any doubt that Russia was seeking to gain power and eventually dominion over the U.S. in some way? You can validly say that the U.S. space program was run very ineffiently,
    • Long story short, if you want better computers, research better computers. If you want better materials, research better materials. You shouldn't say "Invest in ways to get into space so we can make better materials". And you shouldn't say "Space research is good because it gets us better computers." It was the computer research that produced the benefit, irrespective of whether that research is "for space" or not. Don't use peripheral gains to justify a different goal. Just say what you mean.

      Until your the
      • Minor clarification on what you say:

        The "Hummer" is not the same thing as the HMMWV (high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle). It is a civilian spinoff of the military design that is merely designed to resemble what AM General came up with as a result of the Army's needs. The Hummer is a modified Tahoe, which wasn't originally designed with the military in mind even though there may be some modified ones in military service.

        The HMMWV is not a civilian vehicle at all. To make it usable by civilians, it re
    • And yet, it's been the case over and over again that those better materials, those little things that improve lifestyles, those smaller and better computers, have all come about directly because of space programs. Composites, circuit miniaturization, freeze-dried food, powdered drink mixes, fly-by-wire avionics, cooling suits for those who can't sweat, better fabrics, and so on are examples of things that were originally developed for a specific use -- space programs.

      Often it is the case that developing som
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Anybody who argues against manned space flight should take a long hard look at Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9( http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/sl9/ [nasa.gov]). This is a close as a sign, from God, as you will ever get to get the hell off this planet. Having all of humanity on one planet is asking to be wiped out. It was so convenient that this comet happened to hit Jupiter just when Earth happened to have a spacecraft in the area. Just so everybody understands; if even one of those chunks had hit the Earth life would be back to sing
    • Well, true up to a point, but there is nothing like a concrete target to focus the mind.
    • Just say what you mean.

      Somehow saying, "We want better weapons." doesn't have the same appeal as all of the idealistic crap that they did say. That's why it's called propaganda. It makes the idea of spending money on guns rather than butter plausible to those who respond to emotional messages.

      Your frustration arises out of ignorance of the world and its function. You would have a hard time changing American propaganda, let alone Chinese, so a better plan is to learn to understand it for what it is.

    • Long story short, if you want better computers, research better computers. If you want better materials, research better materials. You shouldn't say "Invest in ways to get into space so we can make better materials"...

      All quite reasonable, but China doesn't use those reasons. They're not doing it for velcro and teflon, as TFA says it's "a matter of national pride ... a way to increase the reputation of its high-tech exports." Also, unstated, it gives them an excuse to research ICBM rockets without getti

  • by j_cavera (758777) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @04:59PM (#13820855)
    Bring it on! (BTW, Burt Rutan _is_ on our side, right?)
    • Bring it on! (BTW, Burt Rutan _is_ on our side, right?)
      But so is NASA; maybe the worst money sink history has known. :-(

      (At least the new director [slashdot.org] went out and said that the shuttle and the space station cost at $250 billion were huge wastes of resources that should have had better uses. There might be hope, yet.)

  • No space race for US (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sphealey (2855) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:00PM (#13820874)
    There is no "space race" for the United States. The next president, whether Republican or Democrat, is likely to terminate the remains of the US manned program. Except perhaps a few flights using Russian hardware. And I say this as a lifelong supporter of manned exploration who fully expected in 1969 to be able to tour the Moon before the end of my life (2040 or so).

    sPh
    • The next president, whether Republican or Democrat, is likely to terminate the remains of the US manned program.

      If that should happen, then that would be a sign to me that the US is definitely in decline. I have a hope that this current trend of declining interest in science and engineering will turn around one day and we (the US) will go back to being the creators that we once were. I'm not saying that everyone needs to become a scientist or an engineer (I for one have no talent for it: just a fan). I'm

    • You'll still probably be able to, if you've got a few million bucks burning a hole in your pocket.

      You'll just have to make arrangements with the Chinese or Russian governments, rather than booking on Pan Am, but at least the computer won't kill you -- not on purpose anyways.

    • I doubt that will happen. People are annoyingly two-faced about this. They want the prestige and coolness factor of having a space program even as they whine that it's not safe enough or cheap enough. (I hate to break it to them, but it's never gonna be as safe as airline flights, at least not for a few decades at least).

      The space program will continue, even if it isn't at the pace that you and I would like, or the pace that the grand claims keep saying. Kennedy was the only one who was able to pull it off
    • by rctay (718547)
      The public wants to go somewhere. LEO isn't interesting. They don't want to hear about the science, they want a bloody space opera. The ISS is dead. There's not enough heavy lift capacity to keep it going, much less finish it. If one more shuttle is lost or even a close call that program is dead. It will be 10 years before a new crew rated vehicle flies, and several more years before rapid turn around is accomplished. China may end up the tortoise in the classic tortoise vs hare race.
      • You may very well be correct. But I would classify it as the tortoise and the hare race, with a jump over a chasm required. The US (hare) can make the jump, but isn't interested or willing (money or risk) to do the 'interesting' missions; while the Chinese have the interest, but not the speed and ability to make the jump. Maybe someday that tortoise will evolve, but beyond the slow progress and basic missions the Chinese are doing right now, they're not going to get very far. They could catch up to exac
    • How I wish you were right, but Dubya just signed them up with a couple dozen more billion dollars to waste and the number one rule of American politics is that no pork ever dies.
  • The space race... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jamesgamble (917138)
    The Earth's resources are dwindling and if we intend to survive the next two thousand years, we're going to have to find resources elsewhere to sustain ourselves. It's not soley a matter of scientific interest now, but a matter of survival.
    • Just dont expect any Mur'cins to be there. We dont need no space rockets! We got Jeezus!
    • by Alef (605149)
      Or we could just learn to recycle the resources we have. Very few resources have left the Earth (a few space probes and some atmosphere mainly), so why do we need to bring more of them here?
      • Of course, some resources are rendered unusable by the way we use them. Sure, the atoms in a fuel are still around after you burn it, but you're not going to be able to get much power out of a bunch of smoke. (Exceptions include nuclear power, where the atoms aren't all still around, and particularly breeder reactors, which produce waste that you can use for more fuel.)
    • by lawpoop (604919) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:31PM (#13821209) Homepage Journal
      How about learning how to successfully or sustainably manage resources once we do find them? Space is vast and empty. We live in a cornucopia. If we're screwing up this badly while living in a virtual paradise, there's no way we can survive the 1000+ year trip to the next planet. We'd eat ourselves of out food a fuel 10 years into the space journey.
    • Yeah next 2000 years, and our president's mandate is 4 years, maximum 8 years. How can we expect us to have some real foresight into the things that we do?
  • Military conquest (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:03PM (#13820898)
    There's valuable things in space. GPS systems; communication systems; Lagrange points; planetary redundancy. Slashdot reported that U.S. Space Command advocates seizing control of the LaGrange points before other nations do it. [slashdot.org], and without space races, it'd be hard to do that.
  • by tktk (540564) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:04PM (#13820909)
    While it is a matter of national pride, China in specific also sees this as a way to increase the reputation of its high-tech exports.

    What I really want to see are low-tech solutions to the space race. Not to prove your own country's superiority but to make other governments look bad. Any large government can throw billions or trillions of dollars to get into space.

    What I want to see is some guy get into space by sitting on a huge jug of exploding moonshine.

    • What I want to see is some guy get into space by sitting on a huge jug of exploding moonshine.


      Add in sufficient sheilding, and I think you've just described dozens of sci-fi novels from the 1940s and 1950s.

    • Some rockets actually have run on alcohol. The V-2/A-4, for instance, was fueled by ethanol (ethyl alcohol) -- the same main ingredient in most liquor. It's an easily storable fuel, it isn't hypergolic, and it burns very cleanly.
    • While it is a matter of national pride, China in specific also sees this as a way to increase the reputation of its high-tech exports.

      This makes sense. For a large enough firm, with assets including a billion slave laborers, the expenses of space exploration can be written off out of the ad budget.
      If Moore's law applies (somewhat) to the costs of space travel, smaller ventures will be able to fund space travel as an investment in reputation capital (wuffie.)
      When a rocket ship costs less than a superbowl ad,
    • Something low tech like Robert Heinlein's gigantic, coal fired, steam powered space ships? Though he never explained where they got the oxidizer from...
      • Something low tech like Robert Heinlein's gigantic, coal fired, steam powered space ships? Though he never explained where they got the oxidizer from...

        Probably because he never wrote any stories about "coal fired spacehips". If he explained the technology at all, his spaceships were usually nuclear powered.

  • What it is really about is that a lot of the technologies used for space can also be used for military dominance. (like ICBM's) China and India know this, and so have engaged in a strong space program. The US knows this too, and so is getting back in the game to keep dominance over China.
    • The US knows this too, and so is getting back in the game to keep dominance over China.

      Agreed. With the many countries also showing interest in the moon, it is better to be living and working there then to be surprised by an upstart country. It is certainly not in the US interest to cede the moon to Russia or China. The political forces at work here are no different that those that drove the development of the new world.

  • Pfft. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Britissippi (565742) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:05PM (#13820926) Journal
    There is no real country based 'space race' anymore in the western world. Corporations are going to take over where the governments leave off. China is 50 years behind the times, and eventually it'll be the corporations there that take over the space flights, too.
    • Re:Pfft. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TrevorB (57780) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:05PM (#13821591) Homepage
      China may be 50 years behind (let's say 45 to be more accurate), but the US is about 25 years behind (Shuttle) and Russia about 38 years behind.

      We could be kinder to each country. The US has been upgrading their shuttles with newer materials. The Russians developed a new variant of their Soyuz craft (TMA class) as recently as 2002.

      However America is about to go with a new CEV design, which while an upgrade in technology basically puts them back to where they were in 1968.

      I'm very impressed with the Shenzhou spacecraft. It's larger than Soyuz by about 10-20%, which itself had significantly more space available than Apollo did on its own (not sure about Apollo-LEM). It's orbital module can operate autonomously, staying in orbit for many months, making the potential for Shenzhou orbital modules to be used as space station components. If its launch safety can be shown to be equivelant to Soyuz, the Shenzhou spacecraft will be the best operating in 2010.

      The actual "space race" may be taking place now, in the design stage of the American CEV. Can they build a craft superior to the Chinese?

      China has been building a lot of momentum here, while the US has stalled. I'm very curious to know how things will turn out in the next decade.
      • Re:Pfft. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Martin Blank (154261) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:57PM (#13822125) Journal
        However America is about to go with a new CEV design, which while an upgrade in technology basically puts them back to where they were in 1968.

        Just because it's a capsule design doesn't mean that it's a step backwards in technology. Your argument seems to be based on the capsule to shuttle to aerospace plane development map that failed.

        I would argue that the CEV is a step forward, because it adds flexibility to the design. The second phase of the CEV includes not only a lunar module, but also the capacity to start building a lunar base. Where the Apollo mission could support two people on the lunar surface for a maximum of three days, the CEV will be able to support four people on the surface for a week, and those four people will be able to do much more than just pick up a few rocks and wander a few hundred meters at a time.

        I base where we are on what we can do once we get there. If the CEV merely duplicated Apollo, that would put us back at 1968, and would be a sad waste of tax dollars. If it's capable of living up to its promise, then that puts us much further along, and only 10-15 years behind where we should be.
      • >> The actual "space race" may be taking place now, in the design stage of the American CEV. Can they build a craft superior to the Chinese?

        The American models, by the specs, seem vastly superior to the Chinese craft. That this is merely a proposal for the same continued shuttle budget is even more intriguing. It shows how much of a setback the Shuttle really was.

        It puts the US where the US should have been ~20 years ago, maybe 10.
    • Re:Pfft. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Guppy06 (410832)
      "Corporations are going to take over where the governments leave off."

      Why? Unless tomorrow somebody discovers something everybody must have and must be made in microgravity, or some probe discovers a huge stash of unobtainium on the surface of Mars, there's no commercial impulse for space travel to progress beyond where it is now: putting microwave repeaters into geosynchronus orbit.

      Exploration (space or otherwise) is nothing if not a long-term investment, and Wall Street prefers the short-term to boost q
  • by Anonymous Coward
    While it is a matter of national pride, China in specific also sees this as a way to increase the reputation of its high-tech exports.

    I strongly suspect the driving force for the Chinese space program (much like the US and USSR), is to build ICBMs. If you can put a man in space, you can put a nuke anywhere in the world in 30 minutes or so. And it's very hard to shoot down an ICBM.
    • But mainland Chinese have had ICBMs since the 1970s...
    • ICBMs are difficult to destroy after they launch, but fairly easy to take out with your own ICBMs before they lauch. You only have a few minutes (at best) after you pick up an incoming warhead on radar to launch your own missiles before they're vaporized on the ground.

      This is what drove the USA/USSR nuclear arms race: most missiles were pointed at the other guy's missiles, with only a minority left to target other stratiegic interests (runways long enough for B-52s, for example).

      And if it was China's main
  • by Derling Whirvish (636322) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:19PM (#13821073) Journal
    Oh yeah, that strategy worked so well for the Russians. How's that Russian cell phone you are using? Reading this on a Russian computer? How about your GLONASS receiver? Your Russian-built TV? Washer-dryer? Car? Tractor even? Combine-harvester?

    Unless you are a third-world dictator needing some cheap airplanes, tanks, or guns, (with the sole exception of surplus rocket engines sold to NASA) I don't know of any area where the space-program advanced Russian high-tech exports.



    • I once drove a Lada, tough as nails it was. could fix anythign on it with a comb and some duct tape.

      http://www.crxsi.com/mycar/lada.htm [crxsi.com]
    • >I don't know of any area where the space-program advanced Russian high-tech exports.

      Did you miss Greg Olsen landing last week? From a Soyuz? One of the Russian space-related products is space itself in the form of $20mil trips to the space station. They may not have much going economically, but space launch is one of the bright spots. Russia has the only manned spaceflight system in the world that approaches regular flights - China is still testing and Shuttle is severely grounded.

      Josh
    • "Oh yeah, that strategy worked so well for the Russians. How's that Russian cell phone you are using? Reading this on a Russian computer? How about your GLONASS receiver? Your Russian-built TV? Washer-dryer? Car? Tractor even? Combine-harvester?"

      Two things:
      1. The USSR was more than just Russia. A good deal of the economic collapse we saw in the region in the 1990's was precipitated by the fact that the Soviet Union broke up and saw no successor. If even a half-dozen of the more important Soviet Republics ma
  • by TopSpin (753) *
    Why football (both kinds,) baseball, basketball, hockey, etc? Why do auto manufacturers sink millions into F1? Most of their customers are oblivious to it. Yet year after year teams have budgets.

    We keep score. We measure each other, both individuals and aggregates, incessantly. This is not new, surprising or unique to space. It has nothing to do with space specifically. We compete. Space exploration happens to be one of the more benign methods of competition we've managed to invent.

    On any given day
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:23PM (#13821109)
    This study of $384 billion in R&D spending by 1,000 companies [cfo.com] finds no correlation between R&D spending or patents and a company's growth, profitability, or shareholder return. Part of the problem probably stems from too much R and too little D.

    What's interesting is that companies with extremely strong R&D foundations such as IBM and Lucent haven't done as well as low R&D companies such as Dell or Wal-Mart. Companies such as Dell and Wal-Mart show the power of very tightly managed business processes without a lot of the traditional science-based R&D.

    I'm not saying that new materials aren't essential to the future, only that these new materials are useless without highly efficient business processes to commercialize them. I hope that space race R&D takes this fact into account.

    • Clearly, the solution for profitable business is to let someone else do all the research and development, then implement the results yourself without the burden of a huge money sink.

      Actually, that's fairly typical of many industries. The leading edge is dragged down by the overhead of all the experimentation, and once they've worked out a system, the imitators have a much smoother ride. It's easier to stand on giants' shoulders than to build the stilts yourself.
  • by Quadraginta (902985) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @05:23PM (#13821111)
    Eh, this is the problem with Stalinist top-down economic planning. The Chicoms are fighting the last (economic) war here. I seriously doubt the future belongs to the nation that makes best progress in rocket technology, semiconductors, or high-energy materials physics for that matter. Sure, these things are important, but they are well-developed, mature fields of research, and there's no indication that Holy Cow Wow low-hanging fruit breakthroughs are just waiting to happen.

    But it's a different story in biotech, nanotech or even funky networked software, which are areas where the US is megaparsecs ahead of the Chinese and if anything pulling away. Sure, a new cadre of starry-eyed Chinese metallurgists and aerospace engineers are going to have influence on the future, make stuff that people in the rest of the world -- say, in Southeast Asia or Africa -- are going to want to buy.

    But what about the American firm that comes up with proteomics-based individualized cancer therapies that double lung cancer survival rates? Or a little in utero genetic magic that can cure cystic fibrosis or guarantee perfect vision and superior resistance to infection in every newborn child? How about a vaccine against Alzheimer's so everybody can be as sharp in their 90s as they were in their 50s? Cure for AIDS? Rapid-response antiviral technology that can snuff out avian flu before it gets started? Networking applications infrastructure that make it plausible for most of us to work anywhere without commuting further than from the bedroom to the home office? Nanoscopic fuel cells that let portable electronics work for days or weeks at a time off the electric grid? Any of those future-tech possibilities seems to me way more lucrative to bring to the international market in 2050 than the ability to build rockets or memory chips that are 5% more efficient than anyone else. So if I were buying stock in countries based on their R&D focus, I'd pass up the Chinese as slugfeet, based on their 1960s-era research focus.

    Maybe it's just because I remember hearing similar arguments about Korean and Japanese innovations in steel- and auto-making in the 1980s, when American business was jumping out of heavy industry and getting into such weird niche vanity businesses like personal computers. (I mean, who the heck needed a computer on every single desk, just to play Solitaire and Zork and customize the fonts on your letters? Geez, you want computations, go to the computer center and punch a deck like everybody else...)
    • Wouldn't it be ironic if we developed all those wonderful things you listed, but it then turned out that in order to make them economically and efficiently, we needed to do it in zero-g. And wouldn't it be a funny ol' world if the Chinese then took our innovations and capitalized on them because they had the zero-g fabs? And in retaliation for their stealing our ideas we used our secret space lasers and blew their fabs out of orbit? And that started WWIII and...

      Wait, that wouldn't be funny at all, never min
      • ironic indeed (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Quadraginta (902985)
        It would be ironic, yes. Also astonishing and unlikely, since no one in the business seems to give much of a damn about zero-G fabrication. I don't think it's likely to be important myself -- although I'm no biotech expert at all -- on the basic molecular physics consideration that, on the scale of molecules, the force of gravity is a ridiculously small perturbation. It's hard to think of many systems which are so delicate that gravity can make or break the manufacturing process. Space would arguably be
        • Actually, I can't persuade myself that space is useful in any serious way for any kind of manufacturing.

          I think space will be useful for manufacturing, and indeed will ultimately replace any kind of planet-based manufacturing. Think about it, to manufacture, you need two things, materials and energy, two things which are in abundance in space. If someone built a general purpose factory relatively close to the sun, to use that vast nuclear furnace, and supplied it with materials from asteroids, it opens

  • Is NASA even in contention anymore? China will have done three, Russia eight, Rutan at least three in that same period of time.
  • ICBMs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:51PM (#13822601) Homepage Journal
    I'm all for space development. I want to see its benefits in all those things pursued. But the truth is that the US and Soviet Union raced to space as a way to develop Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with nuclear warheads. Nations continue to pursue this path for those same reasons, with more or less the same priority for the ballistic missile research. That doesn't mean we have to keep prioritizing the warfare research. But we shouldn't pretend that we've gotten our priorities straight until we actually have.
  • by SouthSong (923951) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @08:21PM (#13822802)
    Preparation for military expression of might. China has beefed up its military wing and by entering the space race it builds nationalism. It will need national support to overcome something like taking over Taiwan and rebuffing U.S. Counter Strike.
  • Why do the chinese understand this and we dont

    "From a science and technology perspective, the experience of developing and testing a manned spacecraft will be more important to China's space effort than anything that their astronauts can actually accomplish on the new spacecraft," the article stated. "This is because it will raise levels in areas such as computers, space materials, manufacturing technology, electronic equipment, systems integration and testing."
  • US - China debt (Score:3, Insightful)

    by captaineo (87164) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @09:26PM (#13823234)
    I wonder if China is attempting to goad the US into spending billions more on space exploration... Money that will come in the form of treasury debt to the Chinese central bank.
  • Personally, I believe space research may be vital for us for research and experiments which cannot be performed within the earth's atmosphere, but provide vital clues to theoretical physicists to validate theories. The most successful space programmes have been "unmanned" including the Voyager series (no not the Star Trek one you see on TV), Galileo, Ulysses to name a few. The Mars Rovers that gave us quite a lot of detail from Martian terrain were "un-manned", and yet provided necessary scientific informat
  • Sid Says (Score:3, Funny)

    by focitrixilous P (690813) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @11:28PM (#13823872) Journal
    Unless one of the countries wipes out everyone else, the only way to win is to get to Alpha Centauri, and the tech tree is not nearly devloped enough at the moment. The space race is just the preliminaries for the real race.
  • "While it is a matter of national pride, China in specific also sees this as a way to increase the reputation of its high-tech exports."

    Not to mention that it plays a part in the next World War...

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