China leads the U.S. in Space Launches for 2012

English: China Xichang Satellite Center; The l...

English: China Xichang Satellite Center; The launch of Tianlian I-01 satellite (a Data Relay & Tracking Satellite); The newly developed Long March 3C Carrier Rocket. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 2012 Space Competitiveness Index, released October 3rd, reported that China has beaten the U.S. in total space launches this year.  The report says that this is due in part to a five-year long loss of momentum on the part of the U.S.

The report also shows that Russia leads the U.S. in space launches over the past decade, and lists Iran as the clear leader among emerging space powers.

What does this do?  On every launch attempt, somebody learns how to do it a little bit better, and then pays their people to do it again.  Each rocket built builds knowledge and infrastructure.  Each successful launch excites and invigorates someone’s youth to learn about science and math.

That momentum in aerospace also expands into other scientific disciplines as well.  But while we should all feel excitement for the growing global space awareness and space investment in general, U.S. citizens should ask themselves what all this can mean for their future.

1>Improvement of aerospace tech in nuclear-capable countries means the ability to manufacture better ICBMs that can reach the U.S.
2>Space launches are very expensive, that means that each launch provides many high-paying jobs and routine launches provide careers.  Every time someone else launches a payload into orbit, someone else gets paid for something that the U.S. has known how to do for four or five decades.
3>Since launches are planned three to five years in advance, and new capabilities are drawn up decades in advance, any “uncertainty” by result in a lack of space activity by the upcoming generation.  That means that our children could end up paying someone else a lot of money to do things for themselves that we did for ourselves because our parents and grand parents did for us with Gemini, Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and the ISS what we are too selfish to do for our children.
4>”Uncertainty” translates into a lack of direction caused by poor leadership by those in charge and misaligned priorities by the rest of us.

Yes…we have a rapidly growing commercial space industry that, once it matures, will bury every government-driven space program in the world.
Yes…we are still the only nation in the world to send people to the moon and back (for now).
Yes…we are still the undisputed leaders in planetary science, including Mars launch ability (for now).

However, we have just spent two years cutting into all three of those advantages. Our current leadership in those areas came from us going first, but the first one up the trail breaks the path.  It won’t take China as long to go from orbital docking to lunar boots on the ground as it took us.

It won’t take Iran long to go from where they are to ICBMs either. Remember that the early U.S., Russian, and now Chinese space program goals started with military objectives. We launched our early science missions on military derived technical infrastructure and retired ICBM launchers…to some extent we still do. There is no reason to believe that it will be any different with Iran.

The one chance that we seem to have is Commercial Space, which is poised to steal the direction of space priorities away from Congress and give us the hope for the future that the Federal Government has refused to provide.  However, those companies still require Federal Funding to keep moving forward at pacing and numbers that allows competition, can keep up with world growth, and sustain itself once it is turned loose.

NASA’s budget, as measured in fractions of a percent of the Federal budget, has shrunk to a point lower in 2012 than at any other time in history, during a period when the rest of the world is looking toward space.  For a long time, our country’s citizens spent more on cosmetics than they did on space exploration (I don’t have current numbers on this, but I suspect it is still the case).  At .48%, what has grown to a key technology growth direction worldwide amounts to a mere rounding error for the U.S. government spending priorities.

The responsibility for action is ours. In the U.S. (us), public opinion forms public policy. Get involved. Read up on what is happening. Form an opinion and talk about it with others…in places where our government can hear you.

Start now.

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~ by Bill Housley on October 9, 2012.

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