The panel moderator, Eric Rice, began the discussion period by asking if Pryke felt a need for an international space authority to control the Moon or space. Pryke believed that events do not yet warrant that. There are other treaties that have been ratified that will help resolve any space cooperation issues. John Cullen, staff member for the Senate Commerce committee, asked, How high a hurdle is ISS completion to future cooperation? Pryke stated that discontinuing the ISS effort now would create barriers to any new cooperation effort. However, the new vision does include completing the ISS, and at this time there is no clearly defined end date for U.S. participation in the program.
Steering committee member Dava Newman asked about the attitude of other countries (including the public and media) toward further space exploration. Pryke mentioned that Great Britain is not very interested in human exploration. They are not participating in European human endeavors or in the ISS but are interested in robotic exploration. The British are debating the extent to which they want to be involved in the Aurora program. As for the rest of Europe, when European astronauts fly on U.S. shuttles, they return as real heroes. So there is strong public interest. Whether that can be nurtured to the point of a major human initiative remains to be seen, Pryke said.
Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on the Chinese space program, began her presentation via teleconference by discussing the autumn 2003 Chinese launch of a human into space. With this launch, China became the third country with manned launch capabilities. The launch had been preceded by four unmanned precursor launches. There were no technical surprises, but there were two political surprises: (1) Chinese leader Jiang Zemin was not in attendance even though he was a proponent of the manned space program and (2) the government was very open about its launch and there was none of the secrecy usually surrounding Chinese military operations. Johnson-Freese suggested that the reasons for the openness were not unlike those of the Apollo era: domestic pride, credibility, international prestige, economic development, jobs, science and engineering education support, and hero development. Technology for such a spaceflight will transfer between military and civil space, providing dual-use capability. There are 150,000 aerospace workers in 130 organizations—their aerospace program is a huge jobs program. China has also been a leader in supporting a treaty banning space weapons and is pursuing asymmetric responses to space weapons (e.g., antisatellite weapons (ASATs)).
China understands that the United States is the only space superpower and is not trying to seek parity. However, it does recognize that space is a strategic asset. China desires its own strategic assets and does not want to rely on other nations. It does not want the technology gap between the United States and China to widen. It also seeks inclusion in what is sometimes referred to as the international family of spacefaring nations, which often cooperate with one another.
China’s capsule design was based on the Russian Soyuz, but with Chinese updates. The next step is to develop and launch a laboratory in space (i.e., an orbital module) and a small space station (smaller than the Russian Mir). The space program will probably launch two or three astronauts at its next launch, in 2005. Its lunar program, called Chang’e, includes an unmanned lunar orbiter, a lander by 2010, and eventually a sample return. The government has not yet officially announced a manned lunar mission, but such a mission is eventually expected. Ultimately, what the Chinese do in space will be