What Language on Mars? (2)

Predictions Revisited

The Chinese space programme

Still catching up after Christmas, I’ve been reading an official report from China issued on 29 December, about their plans for space activities in the next five years. In a post in August 2010 called “What language will they speak on Mars?” the answer was “Chinese, on present showing”.

It harked back to a prediction by Wernher von Braun made in 1964.

Man may have landed on the surface of Mars by 1984. If not, he will surely have made a close approach for personal observation of the red planet. Likewise, manned ‘fly-bys’ to Venus will have been made.

Lunar landings will have long since passed from the fantastic achievement to routine occurrence. Astronauts will be shuttling back and forth on regular schedules from the earth to a small permanent base of operations on the moon.

Although unstated, von Braun’s reliance for the Mars flight was on a nuclear rocket called Orion, which was cancelled soon after he wrote his article. Since then the US space programme has faltered or veered about under a succession of Presidents with different priorities. The present lack of American transport to take people to the International Space Station ranks with the British navy’s current construction of aircraft carriers for which there’ll be no suitable aircraft.

By contrast the Chinese space engineers, although starting about half a century behind the USA and Russia and still only moderately funded, are now moving steadily ahead with a programme that has clear and mutually compatible objectives. The new plan includes developing a space laboratory and collecting samples from the Moon by 2016, and building a more powerful manned spaceship. No date is given for a manned landing on the Moon, but that is under study.

A module for a Chinese space laboratory, the eight-ton Tiangong-1 (“Heavenly Palace-1”), lifted off from the Jiuquan launch site near the Gobi Desert on a Long March 2FT1 rocket on 22 September 2011. Image: Caters News Agency.

The Army coordinates the space programe. Although the report is careful to say, China always adheres to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes weaponization or any arms race in outer space, there’s military significance in the BeiDou (“Compass”) navigation satellites. Western and Russian systems are downgraded to stop them guiding hostile missiles too precisely. But with ten BeiDou satellites already launched and focused on East Asia, the Chinese intend to have a 35-satellite global navigation system by 2020.

As for their first shot at Mars, the Chinese have been thwarted by the hoodoo on Russian missions to the Red Planet. Yinghuo-1 (“Shining Planet”) rode piggyback on the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft launched from Baikonur on 8 November last. The pair failed to escape from Earth orbit and disintegrated into the Pacific Ocean on 15 January. There’s been word that the Russians would like to blame a US radar for spoiling their mission, but that’s far-fetched. And the name Yinghuo-1 surely implies that the Chinese will try again.

The post “What language will they speak on Mars?” is here https://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/what-language-on-mars/#more-1442

You can read the full Chinese report in English here http://www.scio.gov.cn/zxbd/wz/201112/t1073727.htm (clicking on the panels 1, 2, 3 etc at the bottom of each page)

The Royal Aeronautical Society will have a lecture at its London HQ about “China’s Expanding Space Programme,” next Thursday, 26 January, at 8 pm. Karl Bergquist of the European Space Agency, a Swede fluent in Mandarin. Summary, details and registration here http://aerosociety.com/Events/Event-List/318/Chinas-Expanding-Space-Programme


5 Responses to What Language on Mars? (2)

  1. Pascvaks says:

    At the moment, I’m of the opinion that the Chinese would serve themselves best by going into the ISS with the US and Russia and others. But, ego being what it is, I doubt that they’ll do anything “smart” or “cooperative” in space in the next ten years. Why should they when they’re sitting on a mountain of cash and a billion “subjects” that need to “inspired” to and by greater achievments? It’s the same Old Game, the Game of Nations. Can’t wait for Iran to get into space;-)

  2. alexjc38 says:

    Following on from the comment by Pascvaks, I believe the immense resources of the solar system await those nations who can most readily bootstrap themselves out of Earth’s gravity well over the next century or so. Mars is one destination, another is the mineral wealth of the asteroid belt, but before these are exploited, there is Luna and the prospect of moonbases and orbiting colonies/factories at the Lagrange points. All of it will eventually constitute the new “high ground” and whoever commands it will surely enjoy the same sort of advantages that command of the ocean, or of the air, afforded in earlier periods of history.

    • calderup says:

      I agree completely, Alex. And as with Europe’s oceanic expansion there may well be conflicts for the command of different regions of the Solar System – and eventually Declarations of Independence by distant settlers. Discussed in my book and TV programmes “Spaceships of the Mind” (1978).

  3. Hole in my sock says:

    Although von Braun DID anticipate that his Mars program would be made possible by a nuclear rocket, it was not the Orion. The Orion is the one with the space craft attached to large pusher plate that is propelled forward by atomic bomb blasts. von Braun was relying on NERVA style designs.

    • Bart says:

      Coming very late to this party, but the Orion comment caught my eye, and I thought to correct it. Obviously, that has already been done. See NERVA.

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