Pacific Dialogue
Positive rivalry in space
The development of space should be a friendly race
By Liang Xiao  ·  2023-04-28  ·   Source: NO.18 MAY 4, 2023

On April 20, the world witnessed a "successful failure" via a live webcast. With a height of 120 meters and a full-load thrust of 150 tons, Starship, the largest rocket in human history, manufactured by SpaceX, exploded and disintegrated about four minutes after liftoff. But the company's CEO, Elon Musk, already said before the launch that the mission would be considered a success as long as the spacecraft could blast off without destroying the launch pad. The engineers at SpaceX even uncorked champagne to celebrate their achievements after the explosion. After all, continuous trial and error is what is believed to be the key to success.

On the other side of the Pacific, Chinese space enthusiasts were also following the news of Starship's launch. Many of them might not care about SpaceX's cooperation agreement with NASA or Musk's ambitious Mars immigration plan. They were more concerned about whether the launch was successful, or how Musk made it to the space in addition to his business empire, or the Raptor, a family of full-flow staged combustion cycle liquid oxygen/methane engines used on Starship, which is one of the most advanced technologies in the space field. Once its safety and reliability are verified, Raptor will greatly reduce the cost and increase the range of space transportation.

As citizens of a fast-rising aerospace power, the vast majority of Chinese people maintain an optimistic and enterprising attitude toward space exploration. When American astronauts landed on Moon in 1969, the Chinese were still working hard to send their first satellite into space. But today, China has built a space station, sent a Mars rover, and hopes to leave human footprints on Moon again.

Adhering to transparency and openness, the China National Space Administration said in an action statement issued last November that China is willing to strengthen strategic communication with all countries around the world to explore outer space.

However, just a day before Starship's launch, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson testified before the U.S. House Appropriations Committee's commerce, justice and science subcommittee about the agency's proposed fiscal year 2024 budget, saying that the Wolf Amendment, which sharply restricts bilateral cooperation between NASA and Chinese organizations, should be maintained. Nelson, who has been warning of a "space race" between China and the U.S. since he took office, seems stubborn in his belief that China will colonize the Moon or Mars and limit the U.S. sphere of influence within Earth's atmosphere.

It is undeniable that the U.S. perceives China as a powerful competitor in outer space, but healthy competition should be more about the pursuit of scientific progress, rather than based on outdated Cold War thinking. Almost all of China's private aerospace companies, which are in their initial stages of development, regard their American counterparts, including SpaceX, as examples to learn from and catch up with. The benefits of science, in a sense, have no national borders.

If Nelson read the comments from both Chinese and American netizens on social media, maybe he would conquer some of his prejudices. The Chinese often say that the Pacific is vast enough to accommodate both China and the U.S. If it's true of the ocean, then the universe, too, must also be large enough for the two countries—and many more civilizations—to share. BR

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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