23 December, 2009

Arthur C. Clarke and the new space race

Last year I read 2010 Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke. If you've seen 2001 A Space Odyssey you know that these books have a vision of what the future of space exploration will be like. In 2010 the U.S. has a spaceship stuck in orbit around Jupiter with all of its crew members dead. The spaceship holds vital information that we need but we are unable to get to it right away because we are busy working with Russia to get a new spaceship built. In the mean time China has just finished a space station in Earth orbit. Everyone congratulates them but one day it unexpectedly leaves Earth orbit and heads on a course towards Jupiter. They fooled everyone into thinking it was a space station because of its shape but it was actually a spaceship built to make it to the U.S. spaceship orbiting Jupiter before the Americans and Russians could.

We are kind of in the same situation right now. We have thousands of satellites in orbit including a space station that we share with 4 main international partners, including Russia, the second biggest contributor next to the U.S. No matter what the current political situation is our space relations with Russia have always been pretty mutual. During the cold war Astronauts from both Russia and the United States linked a Soyuz and Apollo space craft together. We shared space with them on their own space station Mir.

The United States is retiring their Space Shuttle program next year without a replacement space vehicle. It will be at least 7 years before we even get a new crew vehicle into orbit. Until then we will have to buy seats on the Russian Soyuz vehicles. In the past few years China has been able to put a man into space, a man into orbit and upgrade their space ship to a crew of 3 and perform a space walk. They now have plans to build a space station and their military is creating anti satellite defense systems that will allow them to shoot down any satellite in orbit. They also have a moon program building up.

China HAS unlimited resources and they can use slave labor so things can get done very quickly. As much as we are in debt to China I don't see things getting much better in the future for us and other nations. So what do we do? Do we just let our space program fail and let China have control of space? Do we militarize space and get rid of the peaceful civilian program that has been able to keep up good relations with other countries?

I think Arthur C. Clarke was a visionary. although we are not as far as we were in the Odyssey books we are definitely headed in that direction.

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