“I personally believe that China will be back on the moon before we are,” said NASA administrator Michael Griffin, in Washington to mark the organization’s October 1 anniversary. “I think when that happens, Americans will not like it. But they will just have to not like it.”
In 2004, President Bush set 2020 as the goal for returning to the moon. His sixteen-year schedule is twice as long as it took after President Kennedy proposed the challenge in 1961. Although optimistic projections indicate we might return by 2019, the Chinese will still be there to greet us. Beijing has detailed and well-funded plans to reach the moon by 2017. The Chinese have a schedule of preparatory moon landings, while America appears to be going through the motions.
“The U.S. has to get over this feeling that it has to be a competition,” says John Marburger, the White House science adviser. If there is anything we have to get over, it is a sentiment like Marburger’s. China has plans, announced in August, to map every inch of the moon. As far back as 2005, Beijing discussed its intentions to mine it for minerals. By the time we get there, it may really be just a sliver.
Americans once dreamed big. Now, evidently, we’re too mature to do that. At this moment, we’re the leading spacefaring nation; it looks like we will soon be living under the light of a Chinese moon.