NASA running a space race disgrace

By Jason Lewis

China is going to the moon this year. China intends to map the entirety of the moon’s surface in 3-D. China is so cool.

As exciting as it must have been for our parents to have been children when the U.S. was kickin’ international butt in the space race, it is just as disappointing now to be getting our rear ends handed to us by the other nations of the world. The era of playing golf on the moon are over. NASA is talking about setting up a lunar space station by 2020. I will have my student loans paid off by then. Meanwhile, China will be launching before we take finals.

The frustrating thing about all of this space race stuff is not that we are getting beat; it is how we are performing. Every project that I hear about from NASA involves budgets in the billions of dollars. According to NASA, it takes $450 million to launch a single space shuttle. The cost of the shuttle itself: $1.7 billion. The Chang’e I, China’s lunar satellite that will map the entire surface of the moon, costs only $184 million.

Why does everything NASA does have to cost so much, while all of China’s stuff is so cheap? I mean, Chang’e I costs as much as 320 Tomahawk missiles. The entire expense would be covered if every citizen of California donated the cost of a single venti caramel macchiato. The cost of space exploration is inhibitive in America, but that might have something to do with the way the money is spent, perhaps, but not space travel itself.

Besides spending much less on its comparable programs, China also has had better success. The Long March 3A Rocket that the Chinese will use to launch their satellite has fired successfully all 14 times that it has been tried since 1994. Also, China, so far, has lost none of its astronauts while America has the Challenger and the Columbia under its belt. It’s no surprise that a panel has revealed that on two occasions, an American astronaut was drunk enough at takeoff to pose a risk to the flight; being an American astronaut is freaking scary.

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It cannot be denied that NASA has been active recently. After all, it has been dedicated to fixing shoddy machinery and delivering groceries. Since the turn of the century, Space Shuttle Discovery has not had a single mission that did not involve rotating the International Space Station crew (Space Shuttle Endeavour returned home from its grocery run this past Tuesday to sighs of relief coming from NASA mission control; it was not sure if it would blow up like the Columbia did because it had incurred similar damage during takeoff). But where is the kind of activity that at least appears to be progress, rather than maintenance or a billion-dollar Americanized version of Russian Roulette?

The research done so far on the ISS has been far from exciting, which is not surprising because the ISS is only halfway completed. Talk of the possibilities is plentiful, but solid results are almost nonexistent. The only bright spot in all of this ISS business is that NASA is accepting proposals from nongovernment, U.S.-based entities for research space aboard the ISS. This means that there might be a chance at some sort of American-made progress happening in space. That still does not change the fact that China is beating us at a game we co-founded.

NASA has done a lot of good, on the whole, for this country. So did USA Basketball’s Men’s Senior National Team, in its own way. Each has had its time, and, coincidentally, that time seemed to be before 1993. Now, there is little to look forward to from either, it seems. In the case of NASA (and perhaps the basketball team, too), the problem is leaning out a bit and learning to use what it has more efficiently.

Specifically, it means spending roughly half of the amount of money George W. Bush spent on his re-election to chart the surface of the moon. What do we have to lose? Google will probably buy the maps off of the government, anyway.