Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Farewell Atlantis: China takes up the torch of manned space

By Dean Cheng - posted Tuesday, 26 July 2011

With the safe return of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, American ability to put astronauts into space comes to an end, fifty years after Alan Shepard piloted Freedom 7 into the heavens, and became the first American to enter outer space.

Later this year, China will remind the world that it remains committed to what the United States no longer seems interested in: being able to put a man in space. The Chinese are expected to place the Tiangong-1, resembling the U.S. Skylab or the Soviet Salyut spacelabs, into orbit, sometime later this year. The Chinese will also launch an unmanned version of their Shenzhou space capsules to engage in unmanned docking maneuvers with the Tiangong, preparatory to manned missions in 2012 or 2013.

Meanwhile, China also continues its Chang’e lunar exploration program. With the successful launch of two orbiters, China has now had a chance to examine the Moon for the best place to land a lunar rover, currently scheduled for 2013, and eventually a lunar sample retrieval mission, which is expected by 2017. Once that milestone is achieved, China will have completed the two main preparatory strands for a manned lunar mission, most likely in the 2025 timeframe.


Some would argue that none of this matters. The U.S. put a man in space in 1961. China’s first manned mission, Shenzhou V, was launched in 2003. The U.S. put a man on the Moon on July 20, 1969. China will merely be following in American footsteps. Yet, the psychological impact of China's landing a man on the Moon will be enormous for three audiences:

In China. A Chinese manned mission to the Moon will show that the past 200 years or so, when China has consistently been weak and exploited, is an aberration. China will have returned to the center of the global stage, to its proper role as the Middle Kingdom. And it will have been the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that achieved this.

In global opinion. Too many Americans dismiss American exceptionalism, equating it with jingoism. Yet, the U.S. is exceptional: consider how many people risk their lives to emigrate there. Should China be able to put a man on the Moon while the U.S. is unable to replicate its past achievement, while we can assuage ourselves with the argument that “we did it decades ago,” that may well not be the perception abroad. For many, it may well suggest that the U.S. is in decline, that it is no longer in a position to lead, and conversely, that China is.

In the United States. Some believe in leadership from behind, or even more, that the U.S., with its flaws and weaknesses, is not really suited for leadership. But for most Americans, the U.S. remains special, and the achievement of placing a man on the Moon embodied that exceptionalism. How often have we heard the phrase, “We put a man on the Moon,” in response to challenges ranging from curing AIDS to fighting (and winning) the Cold War? The implication is clear: the United States can do anything it sets its mind to. How will this be affected, when China lands on the Moon, if the U.S. is unable to respond? What will be the impact on American politics? Will the President at the time be seen as the one who had “lost” the Moon? 

If America is not in a position to compete with the People’s Republic of China, it will be a rather different world, the morning after China plants its flag in the lunar soil.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Article edited by Jo Coghlan.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

1 post so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dean Cheng is Research Fellow in Chinese Political and Security Affairs in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Dean Cheng

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 1 comment
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy