Should We Worry Now that China's Sent an Astronaut into Space?





Mr. Coopersmith teaches the history of technology at Texas A&M University and is a writer for the History News Service.

What happens now that the world's largest Communist country has launched its first cosmonaut into orbit around the earth? If past experiences are any guide, fear and excitement will dominate reactions in the United States. In April 1961, the Soviet Union made Yuri Gagarin the world's first person in space. That feat sparked waves of panic about American military and technological vulnerability and led president John F. Kennedy to commit the United States to sending men to the moon.

The United States can respond to the Shenzhou ("Heavenly Vessel") 5 competitively (as we did before) or cooperatively (which also would not be unprecedented). We should choose to be cooperative. The ensuing American-Chinese cooperation could well determine the course of space exploration for the next generation.

The Shenzhou 5 launch makes China, after the United States and Russia, the third country to send people into space. The Chinese government obviously intends to invest heavily in space exploration and exploitation, because launching people is considerably more expensive and challenging than sending satellites. Other countries have considered developing their own human spaceship but have decided the great cost was too much for the rewards.Shenzou 5

Domestic and international political and propaganda considerations drive the Chinese government, just as they did and still do the American and Russian human space programs. The pride Chinese citizens no doubt feel will strengthen the Communist government domestically. Although based on Soviet Soyuz technology, the Shenzhou 5 represents a considerable technological accomplishment.

The Chinese government also hopes for substantial international political benefits from this demonstration of technological capability. A successful launch may make the Taiwanese people feel closer to China, increasing pressure on that island's government to unite with mainland China. If Japan and its neighbors think the technological momentum has slipped from Japan to China, they may align themselves closer politically to China.

If the American reaction to Soviet accomplishments is any guide, fear about Chinese accomplishments will increase pressure to spend more on the American manned space program. But this analogy is too simplistic. Yuri Gagarin entered earth orbit during the Cold War, when both the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in the "Space Race" to demonstrate the superiority of their political and economic systems.

The strategic relationship with China today is clearly different from our past relationship with the former Soviet Union. The United States has undisputed economic, technological and military advantages over China. But China, like Russia, is clearly trying to catch up, and a manned spacecraft is a very visible statement of technological prowess. The Chinese government, unlike its Soviet predecessor, has prominently publicized its intentions to orbit "taikonauts," launch a small space station in time for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and establish a lunar base.

The Shenzhou 5 adds a geopolitical element absent since the end of the Cold War to space policy. Because American technology has flowed to the Chinese space program, if only from unclassified literature, some in the United States will undoubtedly use the first Chinese astronaut as a symbol of an increasing Chinese technological threat to America. Certainly, no president politically can afford to stop flying American astronauts and "give space to the Communists."

Instead of engaging in a narrowly focused race to achieve a specific goal, such as a manned lunar outpost, the American government should invite China to become a partner on the International Space Station. Both countries would benefit. An offer of cooperation would be politically important to China and would constitute an American acknowledgment of China's technological accomplishments.

For NASA's space shuttle and space station, the Chinese launch could not come at a better time. The appearance of Chinese astronauts will increase public interest in American astronauts. More important, an additional space partner would provide more financial and technical support for the troubled space station. The Bush administration, restricted financially by the growing budget deficits it has created, will correctly argue that cooperating with China is less expensive than competing with it.

Cooperation is not without its pitfalls. Coordinating efforts is both challenging and expensive. But the potential benefits outweigh these costs. Politically, the existing superpower and the emerging great power working together on the frontier of space is an appealing image. At least as important, cooperation in space may pave the way for stronger technical ties and minimize the growing political and economic friction on Earth.


This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.


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ERTY YUIO - 10/19/2003

Well, the inference was that somehow he was a racist because he was a friend of the court. He made it very clear it had nothing to do with race. It had to do totally with freedom of religion. And he was concerned that the Constitution was going to be violated. There were many others -- the American Baptists, the Mormons, the National Jewish Conference on Law and Public Affairs.


NYGuy - 10/17/2003

Jonathan,

My comments on addressing you were sincere and not snide.

Jonathan Dresner

OK, now that all that's behind us, it's time to talk about something substantive....

NYGuy

I agree.


Jonathan Dresner - 10/17/2003

I don't think anyone doubted that the Chinese government was going to continue to pursue advanced technology for its military, and a space program is sort of the technological equivalent of an extreme sport: if it works in space, it'll be great down here. Chinese students have for years been some of the most active and eager participants in US graduate science programs, and some (not all) of that expertise is going back to China. And it'll be a few years yet before the Chinese do this again, probably; certainly enough time for us to set our next space projects in motion. Most people who know what they're talking about already noted China's leaders' shifting from socialist to nationalist and economic self-justifications. The Chinese seem to be having the predictable reactions: pride, tempered with concern over the cost of apparently unproductive exercises. Anyone who assumed the Chinese were going to stand still was wishing on an old-fashioned star.

My question, based on our recent past, is: what don't we know that we should? Do we have intelligence on China's plans for space or any idea what useful technology they've extracted from the program?

Perhaps more to the point: what aren't we doing that we should? Fewer American students are going into technical fields: business school, not engineering, is the quick-buck solution; for the intellectuals, economics and accounting instead of physics or chemistry. Our space program is stalled with 25-year old technology, in spite of immense public support for development and expansion of space exploration and science. The myriad companies that once competed with each other to provide technical solutions to the problems of space and aeronautics are now two or three conglomerates, with great knowledge, but limited vision and drive (outside of their lobbying and acquisitions departments). This is just a quick list....

There are moments in history when a technological edge means the difference between victory and defeat, life and death. In the long run, social cohesion and economic vitality are more important, but those terrifying moments still matter. The Chinese are in space now. They were going to get there eventually. The question is what are we doing to keep moving, too?


Jonathan Dresner - 10/17/2003

NYGuy,

I don't insist on the honorific "Prof." or "Dr."; but the number of people who can call me anything other than my proper name without being presumptuous is very small.

OK, now that all that's behind us, it's time to talk about something substantive....


NYGuy - 10/17/2003

Professor Dresner,

I hope I have made it clear that I respected you in our prior communications before our little misunderstanding on the CA article. Perhaps we got caught up in a little tussle and things went beyond normal, but my respect for you did not change. I will apologize for my comments about you to Rod on the hate speech issue. I believe discussing our past differences has produced an intensity that I have carried too far, and I hope you; Rod and I can move beyond this point and now focus on the future and still have feisty, civil and respectable debates about what we believe in.

I valued the comments you made on the Civil War site about “hate posts”. It was something I always knew about you that you took a principled stand in difficult matters and you were very helpful in this moment of a misunderstanding with Ralph Luker, whom I also respect, and you made a valuable contribution to the issues being discussed.

Professor Dresner

“I would ask, though, that you not use my initials in place of my name. We are not friends, and you don't get to nickname me, particularly when you are questioning my integrity. I do hope you see this as the personal request it is, not as an attempt at censorship.”

NYGuy

You are correct on several counts and the most important in my mind is that you worked hard to get your degrees and reach your position of being a Professor. As such I would like to give you the credit you deserve and address you as Professor Dresner. I believe this is correct and hope you agree.



Cheers and all the best.



Jonathan Dresner - 10/16/2003

I am sorry if you were disappointed by my lack of response to the recent hate-speech posts. I did not see them, and they were removed by the time I saw your messages either here or on the Civil War board. I was not reading either of those discussions closely this week, being preoccupied with discussions of Iraqi constitutions and the Academic Bill of Rights.

I would ask, though, that you not use my initials in place of my name. We are not friends, and you don't get to nickname me, particularly when you are questioning my integrity. I do hope you see this as the personal request it is, not as an attempt at censorship.


NYGuy - 10/16/2003

Dave,

"No surprise, the academic mind sees no threat in China's move into near earth space and NY Guy hopes the magic of Capitalism will moderate the Communist dictatorship that runs China."

NYGuy

Dave if I have left the impression I am not concerned about China's move into space then I have failed to communicate my position. I live in the real worldm not academiam and my position is not a theoretical or naïve one, but an attempt to be practical. I see new forces at work in the world such as the rapid growth of telecommunications which is bringing people closer together the desire to improve economic trade, a desire to fight terrorism and an apparent shedding of communism and the spread of democracy. I also noted, as does the author that we still lead in technology. But we are now dealing with a land of 1.3 billion people, which is several times our size. There are other, however, countries such as India, which also have a billion people who are also moving in the direction I mentioned above and also have nuclear weapons. So we are still in a dicey world.

I did express my concerns particularly for China's potential to become the world leader in semiconductors, which are the building blocks for military, including outer space, products.

Any suggestion that I am being rocked to sleep is not accurate. This is a critical time when we "do" need real leadership for our country.

I just suggested that the changes I mentioned will push China and other countries one way or the other, either to become a peaceful force in the world or a force that is preparing the world for a true holocaust since as is being said by you and others China’s rapid advancement in technology and outer space does create real concerns. That is why I reject political hack arguments by either party. There is no doubt that time may be running out and we must now look at this problem as Americans. That is why this topic is so important now and should be closely followed in the future.

Thank you for your service in protecting this country. Please understand that I also share your concerns.

Cheers


NYGUY - 10/16/2003

Rod,

"NYGuy.... again, I really do not think anyone ever complained about your posting links in and of itself. I think some people felt the links that you were posting were not relevant to the topic under discussion."

NYGuy,

As I remember it was only one (1) person who posted that complaint and if you analysis his comments you will see they were intellectually dishonest since he never actually studied the problem and presented no reliable evidence to prove his point. Now we know that repeating a lie is an old communist trick.

Perhaps to save bandwidth you won't continue to repeat the lie and I won't have to continually correct it.:)

One of the objections of JD was he wanted to make HNN a better site. Now we see a real ugly message posted by HITLER and JD is no where to be found. Just reinforces my point that he did not have an honest criticism particularly when he is apparently silent when there is a real violation of civility on this board and I believe everyone else on this board should raise their voice, as I am doing now and condemn the author. This is hate speech. I enjoyed the Civil War post since there were strong feelings on both side but the posts proceeded by presenting reasoned arguments, not irrational hate speech.

Perhaps to save bandwidth you won't continue to repeat the lie and I won't have to continually correct it.:)

Since they have now removed this article from discussion you will have to wait five years to read the history I have been posting. But I guess that is what history is about, the past.

We do agree we can respect each other.


Cheeers


Dave Livingston - 10/15/2003

No surprise, the academic mind sees no threat in China's move into near earth space and NY Guy hopes the magic of Capitalism will moderate the Communist dictatorship that runs China. Perhaps it will in the long run, but probably not in our lifetimes. Some people thought Viet-Nam's growing exposure to Capitalism would bring a more moderate government there, but it hasn't happened thus far. Then why should it happen China?

Of course, China's space program poses a potential threat to us, and hopefully it will reignite the U.S. space progam and not only the military side of it. In short, IMHO, we should eagerly be seeking to go out there, into the Final Frontier. Perhaps if the Chinese scare us enough, we'll get off our duffs & get buzy again in space.


Rod S - 10/15/2003

NYGuy.... again, I really do not think anyone ever complained about your posting links in and of itself. I think some people felt the links that you were posting were not relevant to the topic under discussion.

And no... I fail to see why GW is a great President. But I really do not to debate it with you... let's just leave it at you like him and I don't and respect each other for having a difference of opinion.

Have fun!


NYGuy - 10/15/2003


Rod,

Since you show interest in this subject I am going to take a chance and post a link before I get censored. Don’t just view this as an expanding telecom network. It is providing a means of rapid communications of thoughts and ideas not only in Beijing but out to the countryside. As the population becomes more informed they want a better way of life and a better government, or they may decide to conquer the world. I don’t have an answer, but here is something to think about. But I would guess that they have faster transmission speeds than most in the US who use dial-ups.

Again, notice my emphasis on how fast things are changing, not 50-100 years, but in a matter of 2-3 years.

I am trying to make your day by showing you something new.
By the way are you starting to see why GW is such a great president? :)

BusinessWeek Online

China's Wild Wireless Frontier
Wednesday October 15, 8:41 am ET
By Bruce Einhorn

With China the world's No. 1 cell-phone market and global telecom players looking for a foothold, it's easy to forget that not so long ago, it was almost impossible to make a phone call in the Middle Kingdom. In the late 1980s, when I first lived in China as a college teacher in the central city of Wuhan, I had to bicycle to the main post office just to phone the States. And when a call came into the English Dept. office for a Chinese colleague, a fellow teacher or I had to summon him at his flat, which had no phone. One of us would run over to his apartment building and yell up to the top floor, "Old Yang, telephone call!"

and

As the Chinese try to straighten out this situation, it's worth remembering that China has made huge strides toward developing a first-class telecom network. If history is any guide, chances are good that Beijing will meet its 95% goal by 2005. The question now: Just what sort of phones will those villages have?


http://biz.yahoo.com/bizwk/031015/tc200310159578_tc058_1.html


NYGuy - 10/15/2003

Rod,

Thanks Rod. It is always nice to hear from you. I am sure you will have thoughtful and appropriate comments on this subject.

My question is this:

"Is it better to understand history as it happens or read it in a book 5 years from now. And if it effects the way we think then I don't believe new ideas are harmful. As I mentioned my real interest is in what I believe is best for my country and not trying arguments. And of course someone can always challenge what I say. What a great country.

You are living through some exciting and rapidly changing times, it is fun to understand what is actually happening. Remember, I have always said I could be wrong. No, No, I don't think that is possible.


Cheers.
Your Excellancy



Rod S - 10/15/2003

Congratulations Your Excellancy:

Finally... an article where it will be appropriate to have the discussion you have been dying to have!
Enjoy!


NYGuy - 10/15/2003

NYGuy

Garry you make sound points until you polarize the issue by blaming Bush. Remember China’s emergence goes back over 10 years. And besides you give no example of the policy we should be taking about at this point, i.e. all out war, concessions, watching, waiting, a new arms race, spend more money on Star Wars, etc.

Garry:

“It is terrifying that our president is wasting time and money in the Iraq, while the only real threat to democracy is slowly planning conquer one of our few democratic allies.”

NYGuy

But, as stated in the article:

“The United States has undisputed economic, technological and military advantages over China. But China, like Russia, is clearly trying to catch up, and a manned spacecraft is a very visible statement of technological prowess. The Chinese government, unlike its Soviet predecessor, has prominently publicized its intentions to orbit "taikonauts," launch a small space station in time for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and establish a lunar base.”


NYGuy

My point is we do seem to have some time to assess China’s true intent and recent actions suggest that they are concerned about a population size that is becoming more informed and restless and therefore it is necessary to give them more freedoms. While I don’t ignore the threat, I can’t make a knee-jerk leap that what you say will happen. After all we still hold a technological advantage and there is time to make reasoned decisions.

What does pose a threat in my mind is that China is now being viewed as becoming the manufacturing capital of the world and the disturbing thought is this includes semiconductors. Because Japan was permitted to dump TV sets in the US, which have high semiconductor content, they were able to become the leading semiconductor producer in the world ahead of the US. With China’s growing needs for electronic products, its technology export activities, etc. I think it will take the lead in semiconductor production in the future and thereby be able to put more research and development into this area, which has serious military consequences as you suggest.

Instead of turning this into a political debate I think it is smarter to try to understand what the future relationship between our two countries will be and what are the factors we should be analyzing in the future. This is no longer a republican/democrat issue, it an American issue and we must all try to look at it this way. Fear mongering is not helpful in this rapidly changing world which involves more than China.

Cheers




While China could be a threat what you say does not appear to be imminent. Actually it is older technology


It is terrifying that our president is wasting time and money in the Iraq, while the only real threat to democracy is slowly planning conquer one of our few democratic allies.


Garry Perkins - 10/15/2003

All people should be concerned that one of the most repressive governments on earth, and one of the few countries that still has massive, disputed territorial claims with democratic countries, has dedicated so many resources to space travel. These are dual use technologies that can easily be translated into better missles and military planes. China still occupies Tibet, and still claims Taiwan, along with most of the South China Sea, as its territory.

The CHinese government frequently violates global treaties, and has almost no respect for human rights. We are now waiting for the PRC to initiate systems to rival (or destroy) US satellites, all the while supporting a military-free outer space in the UN. Now the US must start putting defense weapons on military satellites in anticipation of PRC attacks in space. Moreover, the PRC can use their space program as an additional threat against the Taiwanese people. The PRC has repeatedly stated that it will not respect any democratic resolution with Taiwan. They are planning to sufficiently freighten the US into abondoning yet another ally. And after Taiwan, what will India, Mongolia, and Russia need to do to protect their territories? It is terrifying that our president is wasting time and money in the Iraq, while the only real threat to democracy is slowly planning conquer one of our few democratic allies.


NYGuy - 10/15/2003

NYGuy

China will follow GW’s genius and vision for world prosperity and peace.


APEC: Security Essential for Prosperity

By ELAINE KURTENBACH, Associated Press Writer
BANGKOK, Thailand - Pacific Rim officials met under tight security Wednesday to discuss a range of mutual political and trade worries and acknowledged a sad fact of the early 21st century: Terror threatens economic growth.

Host government Thailand insisted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping was not being transformed into "a security forum."

"Leaders must address these security issues to ensure that we can trade freely and safely," said Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai. "We have to admit that security issues, terrorism and transnational crime are important issues affecting our economies."

http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=516&ncid=731&e=1&u=/ap/20031015/ap_on_re_as/apec



NYGuy - 10/15/2003

Jonathan Coopersmith

“What happens now that the world's largest Communist country has launched its first cosmonaut into orbit around the earth? If past experiences are any guide, fear and excitement will dominate reactions in the United States.”

NYGuy

To view this event in isolation can cause fear for those who have not understood GW’s war on terror. Yes one has to ask the purpose of this mission and the launch can be viewed as a threat. But that ignores what China has been doing over the past 10 years as it moves to shed communism and become a major world economic power. It also ignores the powerful technology forces in telecommunications and electronics, which favor peace and prosperity over aggression.

Other factors to consider when viewing China's actions:

The rapid growth of electronics and telecommunications is rapidly expanding the idea of democracy and freedom to more and more people in the world each and encouraging a more peaceful world.

China and Asia are rapidly growing economies.

China just joined ASEAN an economic block that seeks to expand trade and fight terrorism.

The Chinese people are now experiencing unprecedented freedom and greater mobility.

The leaders are now speaking out and using the word democracy in their speeches and yesterday,

China Hints at Constitutional Revisions
by TED ANTHONY, Associated Press Writer
BEIJING - A secrecy-cloaked meeting of China's top communists ended Tuesday much as it began — with oblique hints that the country's constitution would be revised to include private property ownership that has been officially banned since the party took power 54 years ago.
.http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=516&ncid=731&e=5&u=/ap/20031015/ap_on_re_as/china_politics

Capitalists leaders are being invited to speak to the new young generation of China’s future leadership.

China and most of Asia is now following GW’s leadership and his fight on terrorism as GW maps out the road to economic growth and peace.

If one looks at this accomplishment as part of China’s effort to show the world it wants to be part of the world community, fear should not be the first reaction. China still has a long way to go with technology. We thus have several years to determine if this mission is a threat to the world or a sign that China recognizes GW’s leadership and vision that the world can have peace if we get rid of terrorism.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, let us hope this is a step toward peace.



Paul N. Lewis - 10/15/2003

Of course we must drop everything and duck tape our brains, now that China threatens to take over not only Outer Mongolia but Outer Space as well. The Taiwanese are sure to follow, and before you can say boo, take-out stands and laundries will blanket Mars and Venus.

Grave perils loom, but only when the iron is hot can it be molded. Decisive action is clearly called for now. Whether we like it or not, this is a time of change. Our commander in cheat should don his flight jacket, and announce a bold new program, Appall-oh!, that will lead to the discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the capture of Osama bin Hussein by the end of the decade.

We all need to become pioneers towards the New Frontier of the 21st century: a one party state for this great nation. My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do to ensure an election victory, finally, for our great leader, Dick Cheney.

Light a candle in your jack o, lantern, and always remember: Americans first managed to walk on the moon only while a movie actor was governor of California.