Join Donate

Planetary RadioFebruary 1, 2019

Space Policy Edition: Should the U.S. be in a space race with China?

Download MP3

On This Episode
Dr. Roger Handberg thumbnail
Dr. Roger Handberg

Professor of Political Science, University of Central Florida

Casey Profile Picture Thumbnail
Casey Dreier

Chief Advocate & Senior Space Policy Adviser, The Planetary Society

Headshot of Mat Kaplan
Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer, The Planetary Society

China's space program notched an impressive "first" last month when its Chang'e 4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the Moon. The U.S. space program, in contrast, was in the midst of an extended shutdown. Some observers expect China's growing space capability and lunar ambitions to trigger a new space race. Not Dr. Roger Handberg, Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Florida. He discusses how the current geopolitical situation differs from the Cold War standoff between two superpowers, and how we shouldn't expect dollars to flow back to the U.S. space program as a consequence of China's space successes. Cooperation, or even friendly competition, is a much more likely outcome than a new space race.

Chang'e-4 lander as seen from Yutu-2

CNSA / CLEP

Chang'e-4 lander as seen from Yutu-2
Yutu-2 imaged the Chang'e-4 lander in early January 2019 using its Panoramic Camera (PCAM).

Transcript

NOTE: This automated transcript is currently being edited by a human. Check back soon for updates.

[00:00:00] Welcome space policy fans. This is the space policy addition to planetary radio coming to for February of 2019 right on time too. I'm at Kaplan the host of the weekly version of planetary radio that I hope you're also enjoying and I'm joined. Once again by the chief advocate for the planetary Society Casey dryer.

Welcome back Casey. Hey Matt, I am unfurl owed though. I were we're all in for a loan. I'm not that I was ever for a little but I like to associate myself the shutdown's over. Maybe you should say that. That sounds over at least for now. Yay. Yes, and I celebrated that in the the weekly show was published just before this build.

I was celebrating the same thing and hoping that we don't have to face this again in well less than three weeks now is people here this it but it is worth [00:01:00] celebrating, right? Yeah. Hopefully we can have a we can cross the low bar of being happy that the United States is space program as no longer furloughed 90% of its employees.

Made the rest work for free. Yeah, I mean it's it was so funny. I had just finished an interview in the morning last Friday with a reporter talking about who knows when this is going to end. Here's all the bad stuff happening. And as I wrote about my follow-up article on planetary dot-org it really reminds you how quickly seemingly endless things can end.

Politics and just flip so fast and we have a temporary funding deal that keeps NASA and other Federal science agencies and other agencies open for the next three weeks until February 15th. So it's good in the sense that NASA employees will be paid there. They're going to get back paid this week. So that's good.

The bad thing is it's three weeks. How can you run a space program [00:02:00] not knowing to be open in three weeks. You really can. Really what needs to happen is that NASA needs to get funded for the year. We actually have a petition for that on planetary dot org slash. Advocacy. It's just absurd that we have to keep talking about.

Whether or not to shut down the space program for no reason but this is where we are. So one step forward. We need to get the rest of the way for the year. Let's at least take that breath and just be happy that the doors are open. Yeah, it's better than nothing. We can say that you know, the old line that I think is appropriate here.

It's like the feeling you get when you stop hitting your thumb with a hammer. Yes, that's where we are apparently these days and I will. She ate that when you have it, right and and it really again goes to show you what the political situation is right now. And again, no one is arguing whether or not NASA should be struck down.

But NASA happened to be part of this [00:03:00] something. That's really interesting. That might be worth exploring in a longer post. NASA just has kind of gotten some bad luck. If nothing else now and let's just shove to the side all the validity of all the other agencies being closed. They shouldn't be but in particular for NASA the way that Congress funds the government is that they kind of break up all of government into 12 chunks, right?

These are the 12 sub committees in the senate in the house. Each one has a different jurisdiction over. Different set of agencies NASA used to be in the same Congressional subcommittee jurisdiction that covered Health and Human Services, which is a very uncontroversial very big aspect of u.s.

Funding and then they just for some reason jammed in NASA and the NSF into that kind of grouping as well about. 15 years ago, I think 12 15 years ago. They restructured some of this and they created this new subcommittee called Commerce Justice and science where they just put together Commerce department just sparked meant [00:04:00] NASA NSF and so NASA moved away from Health and Human Services grouping into this new CJs grouping CJs also has a benefit or maybe the negative aspect of having to Encompass the census one of the very few spending requirements in the constitution in the US Constitution.

So the senses can be very. Pencils that grows and shrinks over time NASA ends up competing with that but the whole point of this is. The Health and Human Services part of government was funded last year. It was the quote unquote uncontroversial part. It was funded if NASA hadn't ever moved NASA would never have closed this time, right?

This is a partial shutdown. So merely by the fact kind of some accident of history of bureaucracy of how NASA becomes part of the funding system in Congress. It just got shut down due to bad luck and it just kind of drives you crazy when you think about potential alternative realities there. But we are where we are that ain't changing anytime soon.

Hmm. I did see that figure that came out earlier this week. I [00:05:00] think that the Congressional budget office was it saw 11 billion dollars was the cost to the federal government of the shutdown in the 3 billion of that won't be recovered. What about the contractors out there? NASA has many we heard over and over how some of them might never be paid for.

The work that was done during that period yeah, that's true. And we heard some of this the other day where administrator bridenstine was asked that question during a public town hall after NASA came back to work right now legally. There are a variety of ways in which some contractors may get paid for their work and others may not.

And you see some legislation in Congress trying to move through to back pay all contractors or contractors for particularly for low-income employees in those contractors, but there's right now no guarantee and it really varies contract by contract. So yeah, a lot of folks may never see any money for this [00:06:00] period that the government was shut down.

There are at least a couple of bills one from a Democrat. I think one led by a republican that hope to cut off the possibility of another shutdown. Do you think either of those has any chance? I can no longer answer with any reality about what will or will not happen or what is possible to happen?

I hope this is an opportunity for folks in Congress to step back and see that shutting down the government is not. A good thing it's disruptive obviously puts people in financial stress and it's really a function of kind of an inadvertent consequence of the modern way that we fund Appropriations the United States.

It should be some easy way to say like if there's a lapse of Appropriations, if you have an automatic continuing resolution kick in or at least you pay the staff so they don't miss paychecks during that period how you do that and you know, the devil is always in the details and so whether you have.

Of some funding indexed with inflation [00:07:00] or index to cut over time to encourage people to reach a deal. Who knows. So it's I'm glad they're talking about it. I think we should add more stability to the nation's government and previously it was just never considered because we didn't have this level political instability.

So this is something we have to figure out in a dress. I want to go back to where you started and the effect of this shutdown and other budget pressures on major projects that NASA has. Administrator even said it's gonna take a few weeks to really figure out what the long-term impacts are on NASA projects missions like James Webb missions like Mars 2020 those were in the hands of contractors.

Mostly and so that a lot of those had been forward funded is the terminology that they use basically NASA paid in advance. For work to be done during this period so you saw General progress being made on a lot of space science missions, even some progress being made on aspects of the space launch system that big new [00:08:00] rocket based on the fact that contractors were responsible for certain things and and were paid in advance while NASA was shut down larger impacts.

I imagine you're going to see on things that NASA has a larger hand and it's basically kind of scales with the amount of federal. Employees are public employees involved in a project the larger the disruption is going to be just as a consequence that they weren't able to work for 35 days. I imagine things like the Gateway may be delayed certainly things like offering new scientific grants for scientists to do the work that you know, we want them to do and all this data that NASA collects long-term planning and programmatic definitions, you know, the the lunar program that NASA is trying to Define all of these things are probably highly disruptive.

But we don't know to what extent yet and that's actually part of the problem think of it this way. The government was shut down for 35 days. That's about 10% of a year. So NASA just lost one 10th of this year of fiscal year 2019 to do nothing [00:09:00] and then it's going to spend probably at least another month spinning back up.

To figure out what it needs to be doing what programs are disrupted catching up all this backward backlog of bureaucratic needs paying old invoices answering emails the whole gamut and so you've probably lost at least two months. Of productivity. So again, you've lost a sixth of the year to this and that's going to have consequences when you have something as complex as face.

Good Lord. You did post a short blog about the end of the shutdown NASA gets a three-week reprieve went up at planetary dot-org on January 26, but you have that longer excellent post that you wrote on January 18th. Miseries Mount to shut down drag. And I still recommend that people take a look at that.

It has a lot of good content in there. And as good as your writing is Casey I have to say my favorite part [00:10:00] is the cartoon that you closed with. The kicker is the terminology of it was a cartoon of a panda right the self image of China in a spacesuit looking at a long march rocket. The translation was roughly something like here there's never a shutdown and you know, that's definitely kind of salt in the wound but.

Really kind of brings things into contrast. And also, of course you had the successful Landing of China's chunga for Lander on The Far Side of the Moon while NASA was shut down right while NASA is trying to celebrate 50 years of Apollo. It was shut down four tenths the year China was landing on the far side of the moon.

So it created a lot of obvious. Contrasts we talked about China space activities a lot of people default to kind of this race mentality that it's going to be the new Soviet Union compared to NASA China has big Ambitions. They want to you know land on the moon ultimately there. They have this kind of long-term program that developing a space [00:11:00] station.

They. Plans for over 30 rocket launches in 2019. They're really maturing as a space program in China, but how we talked about that in relation to NASA. So often devolves into this may be habitual or habituated idea of competition or a space. Is the reality is far more complex than that and we don't really have anywhere near the same kind of geopolitical situation that we did in the past and to that end.

I saw this great article on the space review basically saying, you know, this isn't a race anymore and we need to get over that and realize you know that this is something a just a very different kind of set up than we had. In the past and to that end. I invited the author of that. Dr. Roger Hamburg.

He's a political science professor at the University of Central Florida to come on the show and really go into some of the history of not just the the race aspect of the u.s. Space program, but China's political structure what they're getting out of their space program and really what's different [00:12:00] about this time.

And why it's not going to be erased in the future and we recorded that conversation between Casey and Roger just a few minutes before this conversation. The Casey and I are having right now on we'll go into that except that you thought maybe we'd let you get into one of these space policy additions without making the pitch no such luck.

We need you to go to planetary dot org slash membership and stand behind all of the efforts that the. Mandatory Society is making to make sure that they're well for one thing or no more shutdowns of NASA or. Pat by extension any other part of the federal government here in the United States but all of the other work that we have underway around the world and of course the production of this program space policy Edition and planetary radio itself planetary dot org slash membership.

Please check it out. We have lots of different levels. It's not expensive and everybody who joins becomes a part of [00:13:00] everything that we are up to at the planetary Society. So Casey you ready for us to go into that conversation I am. Love to just second your plug. Do you think it's really important?

It's at the risk of this turning into a public radio fundraising drive. This is I just want to emphasize that the membership is what enables the planetary Society to be independent and to provide unique content like this, but also to really take this action in Washington DC and I'd like to say, you know, we came out, you know, very strongly against the shutdown politics besides the point NASA should not be shut down.

Enter for no reason we had our official statement come out and you know what the next day government opened again when incidence probably but this is the kind of stuff. We're always engaged in right? We're pushing its making NASA making the Space Program making space science Making exploration a visible and invisible priority for the [00:14:00] u.s.

Government. And more broadly and you do that and we were able to do that because folks like you who are listening to this now chip in a couple bucks a month. It adds up it helps keep us focused and able to do this stuff. All right. I'm done now well said and public radio, huh? Yeah too bad. We don't offer tote bags, but we have all kinds of other great benefits.

You know, I have a tote bag. I don't even know where it came from but somehow I have a planetary Society tote bag. You have to give more than a membership to get that though. Yeah, you know, I was handed one of the last time I was at the office apparently somebody found them in an old storage room someplace, but you know what you do get though is a very handsome.

Planetary Society pin. Yes, you sure do check them all out planetary dot org slash membership. Okay. Let's now go ahead with that conversation that Casey had just a little while ago today not long ago with Roger Hamburg of the University of Central, Florida, and we'll be back at the far. Dr.

Hamburg, welcome to the space [00:15:00] policy Edition and thank you for being here with us today. Okay, good be here. You recently published an article in the space review that was called. There is no space race and you're looking at China and the United States and why don't we just start with that and I want to ask why now?

Why are you publishing this article now? What is the real reason here that we don't have a space race between China and the United? The reason for the article that kind of the Genesis of it has been several things, but most recently the fact that the. Chinese were able to land a Lander on the backside of the Moon and that generated a lot of public comment that we're United States is not going to race them the Chinese to the Moon to in order to get the net people back there.

It's not so much what we were talking about science because the argument is really not scientific as more about political clout and how we stand and how visible. We [00:16:00] are representative wolf of Virginia has tried for the last decade or so. He's not out of Congress. As attempted to generate what we might call a space race between ourselves in the Chinese.

And the reality is he never got any traction. He was able to get the provision passed the NASA's on able to cooperate with China on an official basis or spend any money and do all the other things but what happens in a lot of people that assume that now that the Chinese have done this quote First and this is really their only first.

If you go back and look at the pattern and Chinese space program over the last two decades, they've been basically going back and doing what the Americans and the Russians the Soviets at that time did during the 1960s and 70s. That was the era of space first, you know, first people the moon for people orbit First Multiple crew first docking all those things were all first [00:17:00] the Chinese.

I've been in a situation where it's difficult for them as long as they're staying in low earth orbit to do anything that's going to be quote first to go to China for China to go to the back side of the moon and have set up the lunar orbiting satellite in order for communications to be possible.

That was a big first for them. And so they're very proud of that. It's very much like India a couple of years ago when they had their first Orbiter of the Moon I was a project. Which they're very proud of their going to do it again, they're talking about and in both cases what it gives them and their perspective is prestige, especially, you know in relationship to the Great Space Powers, which are historically now the Russians and the Americans what they're going to discover is the Americans aren't really in a race and we haven't been in a race for a long time.

We're committed to doing space but we don't have [00:18:00] that. I mean that existed in the 60s. I'm a I was in high school and college in the 60s. So I remember being through the Space Race. You saw all the stuff about the Mercury Seven Life Magazine all those other kind of things. None of that exists. I don't think many people could identify for you one astronaut has flown in the last decade.

Let's clarify when there was an acknowledged Space Race back in the 1960s. What was the global political context that created that and and how is that different than the relationships between the United States and China now? In the original Space Race when the Soviets launched their first vehicle October 1957, they entered the space era Verner Von Braun had thought that he could do it previously but United States was for a number of policy reasons, which people didn't understand at the time, but do now become clear [00:19:00] the eyes are Administration was not interested in being first.

What they wanted was a Soviets to go first. So the Soviets would take care of the problem of overflying national airspace. So they actually went out in early launches before 1957 and 56 and they would actually have someone searched the rockets that Wernher von Braun was firing to make sure he didn't have a satellite in there that he quote accidentally would send orbit.

Because they wanted the Soviets to be first is apparently a very clear policy Direction. Now what happened was the eyes our administration at least the president is not understand the implications of the Soviets being first, because what it did was it ratified or solidified The View that the the Soviets had this great missile Force.

That they can then use to attack United States. And so the United States was perceived to be in an inferior position. That [00:20:00] wasn't true actually as we know later but at the time we had the missile Gap we had the bomber Gap. We had a whole series of strategic weapon Gap. Those gaps led to a great deal of anxiety.

There's a lot of people here and then you had on top of that event to occur like the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was a senior in high school playing High School football and we went from North Florida Central Florida during the Missile Crisis and to this day. I never knew what happened. I was so immersed in the sport and all that but for other people that was very dramatic kind of thing.

And so the question was space became a way. The Kennedy administration could recapture momentum of these people felt they lost with a Sputnik launch is because remember the Sputnik launches or Vehicles await a couple hundred pounds or more. Our first one was going to be one that we wait about 18 or 20 pounds.

And so everyone's at all. Obviously the Soviets can [00:21:00] attack us with the giant missiles. Well that reflected a difference in how the missile forces developed. The Soviets went for raw power. The Americans went from. Relation minimizing the side of the payload and the rocket etcetera. The result was that the Americans were always behind.

So what we decided was after the Soviets in April of 1961 launched the first person into. And then we did our Cannonball Express launch which was up and down and landed in the Bahamas. We decided that we were going to compete we had to establish our strategic importance our strategic dominance and that's when Kennedy announces the Apollo program.

The Apollo program was a very narrow objective. Although we in retrospect make it much more dramatic. It was to beat the Soviets to the lunar surface and back to demonstrate that the United States was clearly [00:22:00] still a great power in a non fallen behind in relation to the Soviet Union when NASA got its budget it got this giant budget comparatively speaking.

It also went on basically almost a war footing. They were working, you know, 12-hour days 6 7 days a week doing all the kind of things you do when you're in a state of emergency and that was really very clearly the message, you know, this was a competition if you lose a competition potentially it might have some dire consequences.

The reality was a little more mundane by going into a space race where we were sending humans. We had the effect which was what people didn't understand the time. That it meant that we didn't run a military Space Race clearly the Eisenhower and others wanted to separate this space program the civilian human space flight part away from the military.

This is what makes President Trump's announcement [00:23:00] of a space force. So interesting because he's reversing our was attempting to reverse. What was a decision made earlier for the simple reason that people didn't want to. Space is militarized because there's military spy satellites doing reconnaissance doing Communications doing a variety of other things a global positioning but there's no weapons a space force May hold the implication of having weapons at some point, but that was what they rejected back in the 60s because what they were more concerned about was we demonstrate that we have the.

Technical capacity that clearly people understand we can launch all the missiles. We need to destroy the Soviets even though the Soviets can do the same to us. And so it was a very different kind of context very different in the sense of the fears and anxieties people had and the intensity that was there, but the reality was once the United.

[00:24:00] Establishes strategic dominance over the Soviets in the Cuban Missile Crisis the US government started to back away from the Apollo program when the eagle landed in July 1969 for the government's point of view. The space race was over and it was no need to go on. That's why the last three flights were canceled or the Apollo program or tragic in one sense from a scientific point of view because they were the first missions are going to fly with Scientists.

And we're going to do actual scientific study of the Moon. There was one giant geologist flew on the last flight Smith and what they did was they collected rocks and get that they did things but it was not truly scientific what you had were fighter pilots who are taught how to look at rocks and say pick up this one's more and seeing the other one, but actually what they do, they picked up whatever they can pick up and put in the bag and put it back on the return vehicle.

The current relationship then between the US and [00:25:00] China is very different than it's lacking this competitive. Maybe National Security Edge in the same way at least in the self perception of. Existence right. There is a perceived existential threat from the Soviet Union at this point particularly in the early 60s that you point out with the Missile Crisis using Apollo as a kind of a signaling factor to demonstrate us strength and technological capability missile defense.

And so. Or at least a missile placement, but China, we don't have that. Correct. It is a very different relationship the US has with China well in the in the space area, we don't have that at all. There's a competition going on but in the space area, they have clearly been doing things and doing them well, but they're doing they're repeating what we've done before there's no feeling of in the United States at least at this point of competition people who want to go to the moon or go to other parts.

Of the solar system are going to have to make the [00:26:00] case to Congress. Our whoever is going to fund it on the basis of scientific and human exploration on a questions, but not because of fear of someone else now if the Chinese get to the moon first, and we're not there. Maybe that'll change the Dynamics.

I don't think so at this point President Obama was criticized by a lot of people in the space Community for saying you know why we don't want to go to the Moon we want to go to an asteroid and then ultimately to the Mars and deep space Explorer exploration. He said we've been there and done that and that's been my perspective of many people to go back to the Moon, you know, just to go back to the Moon is not considered to be very politically sexy.

Given this fundamental difference that we have between the political situation and the and even kind of the self identity that we have here in the United States in terms of we've been to the Moon. You can't recreate a first and have that same kind of shock to the system that Sputnik represented or [00:27:00] Garen represented.

Why do you think people try to Fashion? China's growing capability in space as a race. Where does that desire come from? Is it something to recreate this ideal of Apollo where money was flowing freely or is there a desire to place China in an adversarial geopolitical situation that the USSR used to represent?

Where does this come from? It comes from both but the biggest driver in the context of this space Community is there has been this long-standing effort to recreate Apollo. If you look at the space exploration initiative under George HW Bush in 1969 on the 20th anniversary. He was clearly trying to capitalize on those earlier feelings those earlier, you know nationalist kind of things that drove us to do whatever had to be done.

So there is has been in the space Community this continual thought that [00:28:00] maybe we can recapture we can recapture. It's been labeled the Apollo syndrome by dr. Pike out in Colorado. He in an earlier article talked about desire to go out and do it do it again and do it with the same kind of fervor and enthusiasm.

That we did the first one the Apollo program was a singular moment in history. And in fact, I've heard it argued what the Apollo program did was it gave us in the 1960s and early 1970s it gave us a step into the 21st century. In other words. It came too early. And so there was no so when it died then it's been we've been trying to recapture that momentum that we gave up in 1972 when we finish the Apollo program and certainly by 1975 when they saw use Apollo [00:29:00] program was done where they did their interaction meeting in Earth orbit with those gone Apollo's gone.

And there's this continual right now for a younger generation. I don't think this means much and that's where they get their problem. The farther we get away from the situation of the Apollo program. People are not going to have that same emotional connection. I don't know how all the other want to eat how you are old you are Casey, but I was in college and graduate school getting ready to go in the army the next year and I watch the Apollo Landing.

I remember very clearly when Armstrong stepped out and that was a dramatic moment in history, which I'll always remember and that's not going to be possible for the younger generation. So if they're going to generate momentum. It's going to have to be for some other reason that one of those could be just exploration in the kind [00:30:00] of sense of going over the hill to see what's there.

All that other kind of stuff the final frontier kind of talk, you know, this is why Star Trek Continues to be a very popular TV show even a reruns or Now Inc. Truly ancient 50 years old. It's a dream and that dream has been lost, you know, as far as you know, most people are concerned. So the people in space Community try to recapture it a different time.

Jar files to one of his articles when the last shuttle landed from the last mission the discovery. He said when the wheels roll to a stop Apollo is done because that was in one sense The Last Vestige of the original ideas that came out of the Apollo program because the shuttle was the one part of the prayer of the idea of 1969.

This is out with this is how we go on farther into exploration of space. I am overseeing where they have these pictures and ads and [00:31:00] talking about in the 1980s were going to be on Mars. We were looking back in orbit by 1988 you point out in your article that the shuttle program was kind of The Last Vestige of the Von Braun kind of Paradigm of having this shuttle to a station base, you know kind of a low orbit base.

Which would then take you to the moon right was this big idea and we kind of leapfrogged ahead of that with Apollo kind of coming before the shuttle and station Concept in that kind of broad outline. Let's maybe flip towards some of the Chinese policy. You've written a book back in 2006 about the Chinese space policy.

What is China's? Sense of itself in space. What is its motivation for investing in a space program not just for Prestige, but it must have some sense of practical consequences and benefits from it as well. Well, I'm not so sure that in Practical and quite the sense, although they do have Illusions practicality when they try and grow things on the [00:32:00] moon are they talking about sending various plants and other things to orbit to see how the effects of radiation.

For the Chinese space program is part of this General thing that's been going on for the last 30 years that is a want to recover from the century of shame that they endured with the collapse of the last Chinese Empire in the eighth and by the turn of the century 1900s, you know by 1913. The Chinese Empire was gone and they have been for previous entry flow.

Thank you a couple of centuries of what they saw as humiliation by the West it was wasn't the United States as much as it was the Europeans, but we replace a Europeans because we were the lat the great superpower that wanted to keep them out of the system. What it does is it provides them a psychological motivation, but it also provides them political clout.

In the [00:33:00] context of the third world countries that they see themselves as a natural leader of now, they see themselves as having moved beyond that now and so what you see is the space program. Is a source of great national pride and great political impact, they they leverage it in terms of other underdeveloped countries and other countries and they see themselves as using space to link themselves to all to the Europeans.

They not the Japanese, but to all the majors face players, they are offered the opportunity to be on their space station that goes up and. 2022 or should be completed by 2022 so for them. Space has a value Beyond building Rockets. They can do that all they want in terms of military kind of things.

But what it does is it gives them that aura of being among the elite States and that's critically important [00:34:00] in the context of Chinese National politics. You see the rise of solvent of the Chinese solvent is MM. You see a nationalism which is a two-edged sword for the leadership. You got to keep them going in terms of get rewarding them by providing new things to take pride in etcetera.

But I would point out the Chinese see themselves as running running against the Americans in a sense, but not really because if you look at there. Space Program things take time United States. We compressed everything into about six years six or seven years. Well actual flight from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo.

Basically, you know, we started in 1961, we by 1969 we achieved our objective in their case. It takes we launched that we don't launch for a year or so though because they are very. Sensitive to the [00:35:00] possibility of failure United States has had several failures. We had the Apollo 1 pad fire. Then we had the two shuttles going down the Soviets lost people also, although that wasn't a publicized but we consider that to be part of the business for the Chinese if they're going to be so dominant.

They can't afford failure. And then you see that in how things are spaced out over time. They put up their space station it fell back to Earth fortunately not hurting anyone. Although that was a source of great anxiety among Chinese policymakers because that would say, oh, we're not as good as we think we are because we're dropping things on other people and that may not be that they may not be happy with that kind of thing the reality is that the Chinese government.

See space as another lever of global influence global power and one that's going to grow in [00:36:00] importance. It's fair to say then that from China's perspective. They're not in a sense being reactive. They're just kind of pursuing their own set of goals in space and they don't consider themselves to be racing with any other.

Either in the larger sense. You're right. They're not racing with other countries. If there's anyone they want to race with booby India possibly. Japan of Japan was fined devote trying to develop human space flight. The Indian government feels very second. Like they're playing place in second place by having a space program that doesn't have human space flight.

So they keep talking about let's see by 2022 we're going to have people in orbit and all that how they get there. I don't know. That's going to be a question. They may actually by soyuz rides and what where they're going to go as a different question. They're not part of the United States space station, but for the Chinese this space program, it's like driving the flashy car.

There was a generation of people that's why we have the [00:37:00] cars in the 50s with a big fins. It's a big Earth most. Well, this is a Chinese version. Well, let's play Prestige games and nobody else is going to play against us because the Americans is not the Americans don't care. The Americans are concerned about other things and our domestic politics doesn't help us because two-for-two Space Program the way some people would like to support it would require a lot more attention be played funding would have to be more stabilized.

Then it's been yeah, certainly. I mean, I think it didn't Escape anyone's notice that as Chun of for was landing on The Far Side of the Moon the u.s. Space program was shut down through a lack of lapse of Appropriations. I mean that actually brought up another question. I wanted to ask you again like as a political scientist.

Do you see an advantage to States? Like China that have a more centralized and less Democratic kind of focus in [00:38:00] there. They're set up every institution as a country that enables longer-term consistent and persistent focuses on these types of goals versus a more u.s. Style democracy where you have this kind of an unpredictable a little Messier less stable long-term commitments.

Does that just give a natural advantage to space programs in that content? Not necessarily because in a authoritarian State it's the leader that will be the key. And if he decides Archie or but most right a lot likely in a Chinese case e decides that they're not interested in doing more in space it will change in a heartbeat, but I don't think that's going to be their issue.

The Chinese program will probably continue on the way it is because it's like the American Space Program. You know when Apollo was done there were some people said we take all the money that we're spending on that would have spend it on things on earth [00:39:00] never happened. But what it meant was NASA always had a limited budget he can only go so high.

Because politically wasn't feasible to go beyond that but the bottom line which people in space policy don't often recognize is it also has a base below which we don't appear willing to cut NASA borrowing a national economic disaster. Then as a budget has reached a certain level that level may not be what people want.

What's that old song? You don't get what you want, but you get what you need. Yeah for NASCAR. That's the reality. They get what they need to keep the Space Program going. The problem that NASA has is the leadership is always been focused on human space flight. So that means any time there's a tough time coming what they do is a go and say let's take money from science are let's take money from somewhere else.

You have [00:40:00] this prompt continued attention, you know from the perspective of being an outsider to NASA. I think the display science program has done amazingly. Well can given limited limited resources in the Chinese case. Their space program is probably in about the same position now, except they have many more things to do that.

They haven't done before like a space station if the United States had agreed and let's say China has become a member of the International Space Station. We might not have a Chinese space station because for the Chinese building a space station is like, you know getting a new car to show that yes.

Yes. We are equivalent everybody else in the neighborhood. They are soliciting people to come and have their astronauts serve on it. For example, the Europeans that from a political level. You just kind of raise this where did the Resistance towards NASA cooperation? The Chinese Space Program start to come from that.

I believe it came out of Congress and if you want to maybe [00:41:00] go into a little bit. What is NASA allowed and not allowed to do? And do you think that's good policy at the moment? You just said it may have led to China developing its own space station in order to demonstrate this capability instead of participating with us.

What's the right pathway here the thing about now the Chinese and relationship to NASA came out of the 1980s 1990s if you remember back in. 1998 there was a congressional report that talked about how the Chinese were basically stealing our lunch and using our technology it all arose over a couple of situations where American satellites were on Chinese rockets at blew up during takeoff for us.

That's very horrific. But in doing the technical examination of why it happened the American companies. We're providing information that related to their payloads that have been on the on [00:42:00] the Chinese vehicles. And so what happened was it was a lot of Republican concern because they dominate Congress that time about the.

Chinese being given access to all this potentially military militarily useful technology not clear was that bad off? But the reality was it allowed them to put in place things restrictions. So the American payloads are not launched on Chinese Rockets. They built on that and so NASA got caught in the middle of that particular struggle.

It was a struggle that was for reasons of National Security. But NASA was the most easy to effect because NASA wanted to 1998. The space station was starting in construction was really under way and we wanted to get other countries involved and that's when the Republicans were able to say. No, [00:43:00] China will not participate the ISS.

Okay that being then go forward representative wolf from Virginia pushes very hard on a restriction on NASA doing anything. It went from them just not being an ISS that will not be involved the what they're allowed to do is our lie to. Interchanges, but there can be no joint projects. They don't they can't transfer information or technology Etc, which is not a big deal in some ways because a lot of American stuff is open source, so it's not literally closing.

You're not exactly closing the barn door, you know, there's still a lot of stuff will get out there. As it will be available. But we are this is where we got into the start of what we now see is a real concern by Chinese stealing American Technologies, but now it's mostly about business technology business-related it and things like that.

It's a it's a interesting game because. [00:44:00] When we did it at first we thought we were stopping them from doing anything because we assumption the Americans made I assume from what we need. What little said publicly about it. We assumed that we were keeping them down that they would not be able to technologically advanced because they are not at that level of the United States.

That's no longer an issue. You know, the Chinese are producing space Technologies. Butter equivalent to they may not be equal to but they're equivalent to American space Technologies. Yeah, I think what's fascinating when you read their you know, they publish the equivalent of five year plans for the space their space efforts in the context of race or competitiveness kind of posture with with.

You realize that mean China's building up a lot of basic infrastructure just be coming up to this level of equivalency. And that's one of the primary thing. I remember reading about just improving their ground stations with throughout the world and in China just to communicate with satellites building their [00:45:00] own satellite navigation service.

It's interesting in that context and to see the people again keep insisting that there's this race mentality or this adversarial mentality. And do you feel that the better path forward from a policy perspective at least a political perspective would be to cooperate more closely with the Chinese on this or do you think that there is a healthy aspect of competition that enables both countries to develop this I think competition will continue in any case but I think with cooperation.

You may have a better feel for what they are doing. They have a pretty good idea what we're doing because we're so open as a society, but they are ones that for example, they no longer need to get some type of some technologies from us. They have the equivalent Technologies what it would do in principle.

See this is always a problem Internationals or International cooperation. Does it cost you more to cooperate? Are you get a benefit from someone helping you [00:46:00] by working together in the case of the International Space Station? We bought the early Russian stuff, but we did it for a strategic reason.

We want to keep their scientists and Engineers away from possible missile proliferation problems down the road. And so in the case of the Chinese, you know, our issue is still proliferation in a different way would we be better off? Probably but in one sense, Maybe not maybe we don't need them. You know, that's the that's the the American colonists perspective, you know, but for international cooperation in space going forward is I would argue is a good thing because it allows you to do more and allows you to enter change information.

Especially we're not talking about military interference move information, but scientific information can be interchanged. Between different parties [00:47:00] without you know any concern for you know, the all the issues that the politicians raise the scientists are kind of and engineers in that sore kind of between a rock and a hard place if we're concerned about security that's always true in the United States, but some of the Chinese.

So what do we work out between us that will allow us to cooperate and do the things that we want to do in regard to further space activities either cooperatively are it maybe we just operate the same area, but we do in a Cooperative way rather than worrying about. They're going to do something to us.

We're going to have to do something to them. They're too many people have these visions of Star Wars people ride around and Rockets shooting each other. That is the reality of space basic much more difficult at this stage. Look at the people on doing something in there outside the space station.

Look how hard that is to do. [00:48:00] And the short amount of time it is and maybe someone else can come up with a better way to do it or maybe between us we can come up with better ways to do it. We lose something by this, you know separation. But the reality political realities is NASA gets paid gets his bills paid by the government and the government says they can't do anything.

That's the way it's going to be. So speaking of ways of cooperation versus competition something that we saw actually that NASA was able to do despite their kind of broad prohibition from working too closely with the Chinese space agency. Was that as you highlighted in your article in the space review, they.

The lunar reconnaissance Orbiter was able to image some of the landing site areas for the Chung of for Lander. So this is a way I could see you know, or is a good demonstration of ways that the two agencies can begin to work together in areas like space science and really classically that was ways for back-channel communications to happen between Soviet Union and the United States as [00:49:00] well.

So do you see a promising area? Is this a good first step in areas, like space science where there isn't a lot of overhead and other issues to deal with in ways that we could work together more cleanly, I think the most obvious one would be actually the lunar surface operations because everybody's going there right now.

We're going to be in different places. Exchanges of information about what's found in what's possibilities? For example, the whole question of how much I sir is our the what's that proverbial one that everyone talks about in the engineering community helium-3 with only still awaiting the development of fusion reactors.

Yeah. All you have to do is invent fusion and then helium's is very useful those kinds of. Activities. Well, I think provide a vehicle for at least at though operating level Cooperative activities. They're not going to be big exchanges of [00:50:00] any information about maybe Technologies, but you know what the results were of a particular kind of scan or what you're discovering when you're reading around in the lunar surface a variety of different things and one of the biggest ones I think will be I assume that the.

United States and other countries in what we call the West would be interested in putting some kind of receivers telescopes on the back side of the moon and that's a more difficult one to support doesn't necessarily mean people so much after you get it established, but it would be something where the Chinese actually obviously shown they can do.

They have a satellite in orbit. We could use that satellite for communications also so it for the United States we might put a radio telescope back there where I put some other kind of receiver back there infrared and you have the ability. To transmit that information in [00:51:00] real time back to Earth without necessarily having to invest in all the infrastructure that would be required.

Otherwise, that's what that would be a way that the United States and China could begin Cooperative operation. And then we carry forward in other areas. We send missions to various parts of the solar system. And the question is Maybe. Chinese experiments are instruments would go along for the ride and that's an important thing because it allows a crossing over of national boundaries in the context of Space Science space science has the biggest, you know, if you talk about space technology is too much competitiveness terms commercialization and Military we talked about space science.

You're talking about something that I think is doable. I think the community least the United States would be amenable to it. I don't know so much about the [00:52:00] Chinese but I assume they would because a lot of their scientists senior scientist at one point. We're trained in the United States in many cases then went back to China.

Yeah, so it strikes me as again one of those real. Kind of tangible geopolitical benefits for investing in things like fundamental space science and research that you can use this as almost like a way to kind of dip your geopolitical toe into cooperation with another country right and allow you to scale it up as other countries.

I can truly International. What do you see potential for recreating an apollo-soyuz style Mission when the Chinese have their next space station up D. Is there any pathway that you can see forward for a NASA astronaut to visit that or vice versa at the ISS? I assume there will be because and the reason is because the Chinese are envisioning.

Other people visiting their space station other than the Chinese. So I assume that means that some of the docking facilities the [00:53:00] others will be pretty standardized. I'm not sure that's true. But I think I assume that would be something that would could be worked. The question will be the politics getting the politicians to agree to allow it happen and that's is not going to move unless it has that support.

An interesting potential would be if you or win. Let's say commercial crew is up and running either someone could theoretically purchase a flight to the Chinese space station from Boeing or SpaceX. That would be independent of NASA approval of authorization, right so there could be ways to advance this.

Maybe the maybe we won't whether I would be allowed to launch out of the cake. If you have a purely private launch thing that still might be an issue because international law makes the United States responsible for all launches so that theoretically gives the government of Egypt and it flies for the United States.

Yeah. It'd be interesting potential pathway something that's been in my mind in this discussion is. You know the [00:54:00] role of human spaceflight and it's been interesting watching, you know, the ongoing justification for why humans go into space and this has been obviously happening since the Eisenhower administration of why put humans in this space.

You almost look at it. Seeing what countries like China and India are talking about that even though it's hard to define a single. Motivation that justifies the investment of human spaceflight and you know the national academies had I think ten reasons for this back in 2014, but obviously there must be something valuable by the very fact that nations are coming up and saying we need to put humans into space.

Do you think that effectively justifies it in some way that it must inherently have value if countries like China and India want to start performing in that area? You know, that's that's a tough one because India does it for procedural reasons China did it for similar kinds of reasons in the in the beginning [00:55:00] the United States ironically maybe the one that and maybe the Russians who are more doing it out of habit.

No state has willingly given up the ability to access outer space. And that will be the first test that will be the test because I think that space human space flight is considered to be one of those markers of State Prestige and standing in the global order that doesn't exist elsewhere in the context of space.

Because what it tells you is that we have the money both of you back in the 1960s. They had a whole series of Articles where they talk about why the United States goes to space some of the more interesting because they went back to some of the Northwestern Native American tribes where they had was it called Potlatch is I did.

There's a term you used for some guy shows up and he spends what basically stood distributes all these [00:56:00] resources. And why does he do it to show how rich and how powerful he is human space flight may have that same kind of War if you can do that. You have stepped above the run-of-the-mill other countries in the world, you're a step above, you know, right now, there's only three states actually to but the third one is suppose a on back on can be back on track.

If the United States stopped, well, actually you might argue. The United States is going to commercial lower but spaceflight because that way they won't have to worry about the government shutdown. Right, you can absolve yourself of the increasing political instability and turnover into more privately funded or pre-funded obligations.

People are willing to pay to fly. Our there's pay reasons to send payloads are the private sector will fly them. There are agnostic as long as you have a dollar. It just kind of goes back to this idea of this Prestige can be so amorphous yet. So powerful [00:57:00] and you it's like again like once you start doing it and this is ultimately I think what came back to for Nixon when he decided to support the space shuttle program.

They just took it as a given that you can't stop Flying humans into space. You don't have to go to all the way to the Moon anymore. And that's what I wonder if it will begin to change the more countries that are able to access low earth. Perhaps the real signaling Factor will only happen if you're able to send humans deeper into space and then you have to keep competing to be at the top of that club.

If low earth orbit becomes frequently accessible may lose that luster and maybe that's one way will end up actually on the moon in the future or further out if that is required to maintain a great nation status.  Well, I suspect your analysis is probably pretty clacker terms of what what observation.

We continue to do human spaceflight for no practical reason people say well, you know, we're doing all these things in [00:58:00] on the space station. I got uses on Earth not very many. Most of them are research is being done is aimed toward seeing how well human body's going to sustain themselves in outer space and that's important information because more we find out about outer space and more deadly of environment it becomes.

Yoho stuff on radiation microgravity going to Mars maybe a very much more dangerous Endeavor, even then crossing the United States primary factor in the settlers days. Do you think that there is a weakness or a tendency in the US political system and at least in the last few decades kind of default to this reactionary positioning particular when it comes to issues in space and human spaceflight.

It seems like a lot of the discussion at least broadly. Will be well we used to do something with Apollo but Apollo itself was somewhat reactionary given Soviet capabilities is that just a function of this type of representative democracy. We in order to create something you need to have [00:59:00] some some motivating external force or is this more modern concept of looking for adversarial reasons to pursue policy interesting question.

What would be the test of why it occurs? Will be for example if we ever see an extinction-level object show up and something has to be done in a Cooperative basis. That is the test whether or not we are divided by such animosity that we can't get along our whether we could work together to do the best possible thing people who Advocate not do anything with a Chinese.

I mean, they're very clear why. Well, they think the Chinese is cheating. Well, they may be cheating. I don't know that when I don't know that one way the other but the reality is we're not really slowing down the dissemination of technology to China humans gather information [01:00:00] by training work and they go back and they do different things the Americans I think we got to get off we've got to do something which we don't do and when I testified in front of Congress about three years ago, One of the things I pointed out was we don't do what we did during the Soviet era there used to be a government program that was funded to translate all these Russian documents magazine scientific journals Etc into English so that people can have access to them who don't necessarily speak our rewrite Russian.

In the case of china where the same that were in the same situation. We know the Chinese are doing a lot and a lot of that stuff is accessible, but it's in Chinese and that means that there may be things. We're missing. I'm not so much in terms of security, but in terms of scientific are in terms of.

Engineering all things like that if we had some program to fund that it was several [01:01:00] of those talked at that hearing talked about that is something that you know, we need to do, you know, I see space policy as truly International policy and that means that there's some people you like better than do others.

But that doesn't mean you don't work with everybody and then he find out if he works out if it doesn't work out. There you go somewhere else stop working with them. There's different ways. You can do it right just putting your fingers in your ears and saying LOL. I don't see you doesn't stop anything right doesn't really solve or address anything directly.

It seems to just be making in some sense the US space policy irrelevant to what the Chinese are developing and there because it's they're also working to themselves create an international. System of collaboration with other space agencies, correct? Right. And so what we may have is to we don't United States is not necessarily want to be in a position of making states make choices between us and them [01:02:00] that I'm not entirely sure how much we we get because of the you know, we have a reputation that precedes the Trump Administration proceeded to llamas Americans are always considered to be.

Very arrogant in these kind of areas. The Ugly American idea was more about Pluto politics Etc clearly appears also in historically in the science and engineering Fields where Americans often tend to feel that. They're the first team in the rest of their does scrubs. And in this particular case, that's no longer true.

And that's one of the lessons that politicians are going to have to be taught. They're not going to learn on their own. Because I live in there bubbles. What you got to do is bring that information forward and so that they can in fact figure out what's going on and maybe make better policies that actually seems like a really good note to end on so, dr.

Roger Hamburg. I wanted to thank you again for joining us here on the space policy Edition [01:03:00] and I encourage everyone to read your latest piece on the space review and all of your previous pieces, which you contribute quite a bit and there's a good insight into space policy there. Okay. Thank you. I hope all of you enjoyed that great conversation between Casey dryer and his guests Roger Hamburg of the University of Central Florida Casey any thoughts that you've had since that little tete-a-tete with Roger.

Well again, I think it's just interesting and important to remember that we live in the present not in the past and there's such a desire. To recreate Apollo or this kind of fantasy. Maybe that Apollo is when we had it good in the space program and all the money was showing up and that's when we could go to the moon and do whatever and looking for ways to recreate that as fundamentally literally backwards looking right.

We have to acknowledge and understand the situation we exist in now and look at that realistically and say if we [01:04:00] can't get funding for the type of Space Program. We'd love to see. Then we need to look at new ways to change that and not necessarily hope that we go back to a very dangerous political standoff between two nuclear powers super powers in the world that are capable of destroying themselves.

And so this type of discussion looking at it from a political science perspective. I really think helps illuminate some of that the the real difference is that we have now and also again just that the idea that when you win a race like the US did to the Moon it didn't really work out great for the human space flight program in the long run either that the race ended everyone went home.

Basically, right? You had a very different space program after that having a long-term. Commitment to do space exploration building on longer Legacy and building a broader Coalition that seems to be a more stable way to go. Even if it's not always as fast as we'd like to see a great example of why this monthly [01:05:00] space policy Edition is such a valuable part of what we do at the planetary society and as part of planetary radio Casey, thank you again, and I guess we will do this again on the first Friday in the month of.

Which I look forward to talking to you then can't wait also, it'll be almost Spring by then. So I'll take it Casey dryer. He is the chief advocate for the planetary Society you of course can become part of the planetary Society planetary dot org slash membership. Stand behind everything we do including planetary radio.

I am the host of the weekly show. I hope that you will check out what we're up to over there talking to all kinds of terrific people including conversations with Casey now and then but we will see you here on the space policy Edition. On the first Friday in March. Have a great [01:06:00] month.

View Full Transcript

Listen more: Explaining Policy, Space Policy, mission status, FY2019 NASA Budget, Future Mission Concepts, Chang'e 4, Chang'E program

You are here:
Comments & Sharing
Bill Nye and people
Let's Change the World

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Today

Mat Kaplan
Support Planetary Radio

Keep our weekly radio program broadcasting online and on the air around the world.

Donate