China’s first manned spaceflight took place last week, news that slipped under many of our radars. But as the United States wanders about, avoiding space travel in a post-Columbia haze and the Russian space program is slowly budget cut into oblivion, China’s space capsule has implications for us all.
Lt. Col. Yang Liwei became China’s first ever “taikonaut,” spending 21 hours in space and orbiting earth 14 times before his Shenzou V capsule landed on the plains of Inner Mongolia.
China just became the third nation to launch an astronaut into space, yet space travel in America is virtually ignored. The tragedies of Challenger and Columbia have dissuaded government spending on aeronautics and big names like Boeing and Martin Marietta spend their time developing weapons, not space shuttles.
The United States’ space program was born out of a confusing time in our history.
The space race was a result of the red scare; the Soviets’ Sputnik put forth a massive investment in science and math in our schools, as well as in aeronautics and rocketry.
As a result, we were the first and only nation to walk on the moon. For the first time in humankind’s long history, humanity had escaped the bonds of the Earth.
While our astronauts were walking on the moon, American scientists were busy eradicating smallpox. The same American minds that cured polio a generation earlier were now taking on the world’s other great killer. To the people of the Third World, American know-how and scientific achievement proved far more tangible than the promises of the Soviet Union could ever be.
A generation later, the space program is dead, American pharmaceutical companies are sitting on their hands as AIDS ravages the third world and foreign policy wonks are busy adding more and more names to the Axis of Evil by the day.
Meanwhile, a country on the other end of the globe routinely executes its criminals in stadiums and engages in cultural genocide of the Tibetan and Uighur people. This country is launching astronauts into space and may very well be the first nation to have its astronauts walking on the face of Mars.
What our current administration does not seem to realize is that America’s status as the world’s sole superpower will not last forever. In a generation, China’s economy will have tripled and Europe will most probably be united politically as well as economically.
Being a superpower requires great deeds as well as being able to fight wars. But we are now in a world where the French are more generous in foreign aid than we are. We are in world where the latest developments in agriculture take place in Japan. While all this is happening, the leaders of our country keep on repeating their neo-conservative mantra.
But foreign “regime changes” and bullying of neutral countries will never earn America the respect it used to have in the rest of the world. Kennedy knew that a man on the moon would do more to defeat the Soviet Union than a million Bay of Pigs invasions could. The shame is that the Bush Administration seems to be forgetting the lessons that Kennedy remembered.