Sunday, 12 October 2003
Why does China want to enter the space age?
What should we make of the international ballyhoo over China's first manned space flight, reportedly planned for next week? The Chinese apparently see manned space flight as a prestige thing — a hallmark of a technologically elite nation. Only two other nations, after all, have attempted manned space flight: The United States and the Soviet Union (whose successor, Russia, inherited its equipment and human capital).
Perhaps Beijing needs someone to point out that the nearly half-century of manned space flight has been an utter failure by all its stated metrics except for the development of technologies designed to send humans into space. Contrary to popular belief, only a few minor technologies owe their existence to manned space programs. The most famous examples of novel technologies that grew out of NASA's efforts to send humans into space and return them safely are myths or frauds (source: see item #3). See also.
So why has China cared so much about manned space flight for such a long time? My answer: Who cares? Let them waste their money sending people into orbit, so long as it prevents them from deploying more nukes.