I think it may just be because of the Apollo missions that I’m as much of a sci-fi geek as I am. Growing up with my grandparents, I remember hearing my grandfather and my uncle tell me story after story about the space program. For someone like my grandfather, who grew up during the depression and World War II, the idea of space exploration really must have been amazing. His grandparents had thought that human flight at all was improbable, and then not only did he live to see commercial flight become common, but he lived to see people sent to the moon. It’s only natural that these experiences set his expectations too high.

moon

I knew the names, color, and approximate distance of all the planets when I was seven. Within months I’d also learned how long their days and years were, how many moons they had and more. I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. I guess a lot of kids did. I stayed interested in space but, the progress I’ve seen has been the opposite of what my grandfather saw. I saw Challenger blow up when I was in elementary school. I read all kinds of exciting things about Mir, only to see it come to an unpleasant demise. I got fired up when scientists visited my school talking about possible life on Mars, only to see interest slowly fall apart. I saw space development funneled increasingly into weapons of war, and low-orbit communications. The US has spent eleven times what all the research and execution of a manned mission to Mars would have cost… re-invading Iraq.

After all of those disappointments, it was with great joy that I read about Yáng Lìwěi (杨利伟), and his historic first Chinese mission into space three years ago. If anything could get my fellow Americans interested in space again, rather than war, it’s the idea that the Chinese will go ahead without us.

In a perfect world, people would leave all their various petty brands of nationalism at the doorstep, but if there has to be competition, let’s see it in a way that will advance humanity rather than devastate it. This is good news.

SHANGHAI — China successfully launched the unmanned lunar space orbiter Chang’e 1 on Wednesday, fuelling Asia’s undeclared space race and moving a step closer to its goal of putting a man on the moon by 2020.

The liftoff in southwestern Sichuan province was broadcast live across the country as a demonstration of President Hu Jintao’s pledge of more science-based progress and to make China a competitor in the lucrative commercial space market in telecommunications.

The Vancouver Sun: China blasts into Asian space race with orbiter launch