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The U.S. used to only compete with Russia, but now has multiple other nations to deal with

The U.S. is losing ground to competing space agencies as Europe, China, Russia and Japan continue to make progress in their space programs.  Even though the U.S. still has the most military satellites monitoring Earth, both commercial and civilian space initiatives are severely lacking when compared to its international counterparts.

There are several contributing factors into the decline of the U.S. space agency, though immediate fixes are not evident.  Even though NASA has a long string of success, the unfortunate shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, budget issues, and the looming 2010 retirement of the current generation of space shuttles are all complicating matters.

"We spent many tens of billions of dollars during the Apollo era to purchase a commanding lead in space over all nations on Earth," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.  "We've been living off the fruit of that purchase for 40 years and have not ... chosen to invest at a level that would preserve that commanding lead."

Although Russia has been a long-time competitor to NASA, the Chinese space agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have continued to make steady progress with its intended goals.

Along with multiple missions to Mars, China is preparing for stage two of a three-part mission to the moon.  The first step in the plan, which is ongoing, included sending a satellite to orbit the moon.  The second step proposes launching a lunar lander before 2010, and the third step involves collecting soil samples from the moon in the next 12 years.

The Chinese space program also has its first spacewalk scheduled for October. Griffin admits China will likely beat the U.S. and other nations back to the moon.

India also has a developing space program that may not have the type of budget of larger space programs, but the country still has had success launching smaller missions that have shown good results.  Its most recent success was a satellite launch in which 10 satellites launched into orbit aboard one rocket.

The U.S. space agency does have its own mission outline for the next 12 years, but may struggle to meet its goals if the Orion crew vehicle is not completed on time in 2015.

NASA used to be responsible for sending other nations' satellites into orbit, but now Russia, India, and China are the three main nations responsible for helping Israel, Brazil, Singapore and the ESA launch satellites into space.

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RE: What do Americans realistically expect?
By Ringold on 7/12/2008 8:41:05 PM , Rating: 1
The reality is that the US is still a decade or more ahead of the nearest active competition

I think the one way that view is rational is if one looks only at today and the recent past, rather than incorporating a forward looking view. Perhaps we had technology or abilities ten or more years ago that they're only mastering today, true. However, they will soon have capability that we do will not, and they'll have it in less than ten years. It's not at all clear if the next President will support Ares V development, which would render Orion in to nothing but a cute taxi-cab for the ISS, with none of the capability of space shuttle. Obama has spoke in the past about diverting resources to education spending, and McCain wants a freeze on federal spending.

With their rate of advancement far outpacing our own, if you wait until they're actually setting up lunar bases before saying "Yes, okay, perhaps they have pulled ahead," then our lead may be impossible to regain.

Besides, where are the economic conservatives / political liberals that take every opportunity to bash trade, etc? This is probably one of the few policy options that it might make some sense to take a nationalist view on; for example, requiring the vast majority of all components to be American-made. It wouldn't be as cost effective to do it that way, but it would give legions of engineers experience they wouldn't of otherwise had and companies all kinds of technologies they wouldn't of otherwise stumbled upon or been able to research. And they'd all be right here, in America, ready to give America a competitive advantage. Even if all a sustained manned space exploration (rather than manned low earth orbit exploration) project did was inspire more kids to switch from soft-ball liberal arts majors to engineering degree programs, it would be a huge win for the nation.

As for the science debate, whatever. People talk like a focus on getting men someplace in a rush somehow precludes science instruments going along with them. In case no one noticed, the vast cost and effort is consumed by getting the humans there. Just a little extra coin and all the science equipment you want can come along as well, and with human masters with flexibility and instant control impossible to replicate with robotics.

But go ahead, lets stick to small steps, small programs, and keep boldness to a minimum. We can be like, say, Portugal; an irrelevant country on an irrelevant peninsula, attached to an irrelevant continent, which has contributed nothing to mankind that other parts of the world couldn't have done just as easily for half a century. Well, except for beer.

By Ringold on 7/12/2008 8:46:56 PM , Rating: 3
Not to even mention, it might give America as a country some achievement to be proud of. Even the most staunch Republican must admit we've half-assed virtually everything we've done, and not just the last 8 years but for the last couple decades. In that sense, then, something to be proud of is sorely needed. Yet another fringe benefit.

By niaaa on 7/18/2008 8:46:44 AM , Rating: 2
Portugal discovered America you know...One of the greatest sea nations ever.

And the irrelevant continent is where you come from.

There is a world outside USA....

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997
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