Will the next man (or woman) that walks on the moon be from China? A month ago, China’s space authority announced at a conference in Harbin plans to build a manned scientific research outpost on the moon. In a video released from the conference, it said “We believe that the Chinese nation’s dream of residing in a ‘lunar palace’ will soon become a reality.” This was the first time that China has announced publicly the intention to have a manned lunar outpost.
I’ve been living in China the past two months, and this announcement is one of many similar initiatives that signify a growing confidence on the international stage for their future as a great power, and perhaps the greatest power globally in the next decades. Having a man or woman walk on the moon as part of a team resident there is in one way no big deal of course, but it does have symbolic power as it did in the height of the Cold War, when US and Soviet scientists raced to see who would be the first to have a manned expedition to the moon. The US ‘won’ in July 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, and Buzz Aldrin second. (pictured in the photo).
Since 1969, there have been a total of 12 men who have walked on the moon. All have been from the United States and obviously, all men. Last week the fourth man to do so, Alan Bean, died at the age of 86. With Bean’s death, there are now only four of the twelve still living. To me, and many readers may disagree, it is an important symbolic gesture for China to make these plans. It is a sign of the expansion of China’s self-perceptions, and perhaps a sign of the United States’ declining ones. Walking on the moon is only one of many signs of a nations power and prestige, and certainly may not be as important as it was in the 1960’s as a goal, but it still carries value.
Though I hesitate to say that the United States (and Europe) are in a long term decline that will go on over the next fifty years, I more and more lean that way. Spending much of my year in Asia gives me more confidence that the future belongs to a great degree in Asia, as I have written about in the past in this blog. (See The Dynamism of Asia. ) There is something about the expansiveness of a commitment to space and a nation’s perception of its future. That is exactly where the US has been strong in the past, its commitment to ‘manifest destiny’ in the great open spaces of its continent matching later its desire to expand into the ‘new frontier’ of space.
But that is changing. Now NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, is continually underfunded and matches its lack of money with a lack of goals and purpose. Where is the US space program headed? Seemingly nowhere, and this lack of commitment to space seems to reflect a parallel lack of confidence in the future overall for many Americans.
Of course China has its own problems, and it is indeed hard to predict what the next fifty years will hold for them as well. But somehow the idea of a Chinese woman walking on the moon in the next 20 years brings a sense of a new world to me. A new future. where the US takes its place as one of the great powers alongside China and others. I don’t see long term American decline as meaning that the US won’t be a great power, just that it won’t be the only one as it is now. A multi-polar world is our future, one that China will be front and center in.
I hope I’m alive to see a Chinese woman walk on the moon.