New space race a good thing

Around 8:00 p.m. EST Tuesday, China became the third country to launch a person into space. From the Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert, Lt. Yang Liwei of the Peoples Liberation Army became China’s first Yuhangyuan (Chinese for space navigator) as he blasted off using a Long March 2F rocket. Within 14 minutes, Liwei was in orbit in his Shenzhou V spacecraft. This occasion creates many hopes of birthing a new space race between the three astro-powers.

According to , the United States spends more on its space program than all other nations with space programs combined. Yet, the United States space program has stagnated in recent decades, leaving no major reasons to celebrate since landing on the moon. Many space exploration enthusiasts are hoping that China’s space venture will spark a new competition between the two rival camps of the United States and Russia.

The launching of China’s first manned spacecraft is being billed as “China’s Great Leap Skyward” by Time Magazine. This launch is seen as a big portion of China’s recent global power surge. This surge is also shown by China’s entry into the World Trade Organization as well as its cooperation with pushing North Korea into negotiations of ending its nuclear-weapons program. This launch into the cosmos will not only provide a wealth of military technology for China, it will most importantly boost Chinese national pride and provide what any dictatorial regime craves: good propaganda.

Naysayers state that China’s achievement of putting a person in orbit was conquered by the United States and the former Soviet Union 40 years ago. What they don’t cite is that China has been sending satellites into orbit since 1970, for instance, when they used a Long March rocket to send a satellite that orbited while blaring the anthem of the Cultural Revolution, “The East is Red.” It is possible this conclusion was made because China’s space program was put on hiatus shortly after the death of former President Mao Zedong, and wasn’t resurrected until the mid ’90s under the rule of Jiang Zemin, predecessor to current President Hu Jintao.

The existing antagonism between the Chinese Communist Party and the Bush Administration makes the chances of a Chinese-Russian-American space race all the more likely. The ball is now in the White House’s court on whether it should keep its blasé attitude toward space exploration, specifically a manned mission to Mars, or leap forward into a new and long-promised frontier.