According to a Tuesday story in the UK edition of the International Business Times, Neil degrease Tyson, the celebrity astrophysicist and media personality, advocated a space race between the United States and China. The idea is that such a race would spur innovation and cause industry to grow. The Apollo race to the moon caused a similar explosive period of scientific research and engineering development.
The idea of a repeat of the 1960s era space race is not a new one, by any means. China has certainly been making great strides in space exploration, launching Shenzhou crewed missions in low Earth orbit and a number of Chang’e probes to the moon. The Chinese have made no secret of their desire to land people on the lunar surface and exploit Earth’s nearest neighbor for its resources, in particular, helium 3, a material that could fuel future fusion reactors. If they were to achieve such a feat while the American space program is still mired by inadequate funding and a lack of a clear direction, it would be quite a propaganda coup.
If Tyson’s theory is correct, a scheme to beat the Chinese back to the moon would be just the thing to help jump start the American economy, now stuck in an economic malaise, and to provide a spiritual renewal and national purpose. A space race would be a less lethal way to confront the Chinese than a military confrontation in the South China Sea. Indeed, such an undertaking might force the Chinese to divert resources from military adventures into space research.
Some analysts suggest that a space race would be an unproductive endeavor. They point out that the last space race ended abruptly with the cancellation of the last three Apollo missions, which led to a period of relative malaise that lasted until the beginning of the space shuttle program. On the other hand, the Nixon administration might have continued the space race had it been convinced of the geopolitical advantages of doing so. Someone should write a book series about that.
To sum up, an open-ended space race, that does not have the expiration date of “before this decade is out” might just be what the Doctor, in this case Dr. Tyson, ordered to finally start America’s recovery. And it would put China, a country that abuses human rights and has imperial pretensions, in its place.