I hate linking to the BBC, but I can't find the story anywhere else.
So, China is expected to launch its first manned space flight within days. Thanks for the pointer, Matt.
There aren't many details, but in my opinion this is a momentous occasion. The space race between America and the USSR was driven by politics, and even though it's long over many of the technological breakthroughs of the past decades are the direct results of our massive space program. The USSR can't even maintain its committments to the International Space Station now, and with no real rival the United States' vision for space has stagnated.
China's entry into the space-faring community is political as well -- the space club is even more exclusive than the nuclear club, and China is aiming for the moon. Such programs capture the minds of the world, and attract scientists from all over who want to get involved in cutting-edge research. The immediate space projects will stay secretive for a while, but the peripheral work may be open to all comers; if China is smart, it will leverage the prestige of this endeavor counter America's dominance as the world's brain-drain.
What's more, I can only hope that if America's space superiority is seriously challenged we'll rise to the occasion and kick our butts back into gear. I want to go to Luna and Mars myself, and NASA sure as heck isn't going to get me there unless I stow away on board a rover. I have no doubt that private industry can out-compete China's communist party.
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