Why China needs SpaceX to fail
Several years ago the United States pointedly told Europe, Russia and Japan that regarding the building of the current Space Station in space and global cooperation that China could go “take a hike”.
America, right or wrong, was so convinced that China would use any and all technology gained from others during the construction and manning of the Space Station for its own military gain, that America bluntly excluded China from any involvement in the program.
It was in effect, “us or them”. Chinese citizens are not even allowed to enter NASA facilities.
One wonders now what the reply would be if America gave a similar ultimatum today?
When the International Space Station began operations in 2000, Putin had only just become defacto leader of Russia. ISS was agreed to during the tenure of Yeltsin. If established during Putin’s reign, would he have agreed to excluding China? And of course, with the perceived decline of America and perceived rise of China, one can with much justification fairly wonder what Europe would do?
Alas, the Chinese Space Program has over time continued to steadily develop. It has become stronger, more confident. Courtesy of the support of the Chinese State and a steady budget, the success of the Chinese Space Program is without doubt a notch on the belt of the Chinese Communist Party.
Needless to say the Chinese Space Program, as if it mattered, also enjoys the unconditional support of the Chinese Nation. It is wildly popular in China.
China has had both a male and female in space. It has had a spacewalk. It has had a space docking. It has even landed a rover on the moon. Never mind it only went 300 feet before breaking down and being unable to travel any further ,(we need to be positive here!), the fact is it landed a rover!
With much state support, ala America’s space program in the 60’s(particularly in the 60’s, where it reportedly consumed 25% of America’s overall budget), the 70’s, and the 80’s, China is without question an up and coming Space Power on the make. In a way, China’s focus coupled with America’s dazed and confused approach to Space is symbolic of China’s Rise and America’s slow withering decay.
But the Holy Grail is the Moon. Landing an astronaut on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth. This is China’s goal. This is what China wants to do. It wants to plant its flag on the Moon, just like America. While many an enthusiast expected immediate results, China brought those expectations down to earth; it instead announced a goal of sending an astronaut to Earth and back but only by 2036. That’s a hell of a long time from now. But it’s a fair and realistic goal.
Enter Elon Musk.
An immigrant. Brash. Confident. More importantly, the creator of Space X.
Elon Musk is symbolic of what is both good and terrible about America. Terrible because the rise of Space X would not have been possible without the utter and complete incompetence of NASA over the past decade. A small fortune of money has been thrown at large conglomerates with little to show for it. Because of that incompetence, America must now rely upon the Russians (of all people!) to ferry their astronauts to the ISS. America has lost that capability. (Thank you, George Bush. And I thought all I had to thank you for was America’s longest running war, the 2008 financial crisis and turning America into a country with budget surpluses far into the horizon upon your taking office in 2001 instead into a country with $10 trillion in debt upon leaving office in 2009.)
As this is a blog that is supposed to be fun (and upon occasion we even learn things here!), I will skip through 99% of the details.
Elon Mush figured out how to launch a rocket. Then reuse a part of that launch vehicle, in order to save money. And then brazenly had the gall to pass those savings on to his customers. As such, he greatly undercut his competitors. Companies that were quite frankly stealing money from the US Government and taxpayer by overcharging for their services.
Elon Musk put a change to all that. And that is the symbolically cool thing about America. Despite all of the lazy intellectualism taking place about the decline of America, people forget that America’s greatest strength is that it continues to provide the best environment for entrepreneurs to succeed.
Elon Musk could not have succeeded in China. China’s Space Program is very much a reflection of America’s cum 1965. Top down management style. Lots of smart people. Big government support.
Slow and cautious. And there is nothing wrong with how China approaches that either.
While NASA still rocks when it comes to putting rovers in Space(Yutu travelled 300 feet before breaking down, but Spirit lasted 6 years on Mars and Opportunity is still going. They both landed 2004. I won’t mention Curiosity.), it sucks at putting astronauts into Space to further explore. I will state here I understand it needs a budget to succeed, and congressional signoff on its vision.
The US Government when it comes to space exploration is in crisis. It has no sense of urgency whatsoever. It is mired in ambivalence. That is why America really, really, needs China to succeed in a big, splashy way. It needs to upstage America. It needs to make America look bad. That is the only way the US Government will quite frankly get off its fat and oh so content Ass.
It is this current environment with America that Elon Musk is working within. His company is the Apple of Space Exploration. It is a cool place to work and perceived as a center of innovation. Engineers from across America vie and compete against each other to work on the next big project. Working at Space X is a sign of status. It is a cool place to be right now. Probably as cool as the US Space Program was in 1965.
Quite frankly, he attracts the best and brightest in their fields. And NASA does not.
In sum, Elon Musk most likely could only have happened in America.
In the year 2017 Space X has been on a roll. As of this writing it has as many space launches in 2017(15) as a company as China (a country).
But now Elon Musk wants to do something else. He wants to send a person to Mars and back within the next decade. (You can read about it here and here.) Which in my view is silly and ridiculous. SpaceX hasn’t even sent a person to space yet. Not one. How the hell is it gonna go to Mars? And what does this have to do with China?
Well, a lot actually.
As I think you all know by now, I’m rather interested in talking about the Chinese Mentality. The Chinese psychological makeup. And as you all know by now, this is the most confident China has been as a nation since the time of Macartney and Qianlong in 1793. To the Chinese today, anything is possible. The only thing that can stop the Rise of China is China itself. And I would tend to agree.
While America has no appetite for going back to the Moon, still there it sits, night after polluted night, beckoning The Heavenly Kingdom. Just out of reach.
While no one in China knows or pays much attention to SpaceX, they should. The narrative of America as a sick old man floats heavily over China today. Not much is expected of it. As such many Chinese will be utterly shocked if SpaceX (or even someone else) lands a man on Mars. And I think it is greater than 50-50 that SpaceX will accomplish this feat.
To hell with the next five years. But maybe on the tail end of the next decade it may very well be that America does indeed send a man to Mars and back before the Chinese even reach the moon.
And should that happen then every damn thing China has said about the “sick old man” will have been proven in an instant to be what it always was, ie utter bullshit. How does China spin this feat to its benefit? It cannot. How does China continue with its narrative about an American nation in decay without looking silly? Afterall, how can such nations possibly send people to Mars and back?
First of all when SpaceX goes to Mars, it should not (but probably will be) a USA! Chest Thumping moment. No doubt a surge of pride will sweep through the American Nation. Nevermind it’s not NASA, or the US Government accomplishing this feat. But make no mistake, it will be US technology. And US know how, but maybe in name only. God only knows what percentage of SpaceX engineers are foreign born? So I think one can argue fairly this will not be a triumph of the United States’ per say.
But what will be clear to the Chinese People is that the entrepreneurial friendly environment still prevalent in America is woefully nonexistent in China. Say what you will about Tencent and Alibaba. We’re talking bigger things then selling underwear on the internet. It’s easy for these guys to succeed in China when the West is kept out. China even conspired to get rid of Uber for Godsakes.
As China grows and becomes stronger the Chinese People will expect results akin to its status. It will want to succeed on the global stage and in a big way. Seeing SpaceX go to Mars before the Chinese even make it to the Moon will be a deflating blow to the Chinese Ego. The Chinese will think
“America just went to Mars”, without realizing it was actually a private company with little or no technological assistance from the US government.
Rather, SpaceX simply harnessed the brainpower of the American population, replete with many a foreigner and an environment conducive for taking risk. Motivated more not by failure but by the thrill of success. We are lucky to be witnessing a new age of space exploration in America, funded by American billionaires. Progress and Innovation will be at a pace never seen before. It will be a statement that entrepreneurialism is always greater than a state run Space program.
But to the Chinese, none of that will matter. They will assume other countries are just like theirs.
Top down management. And once again the Chinese People will have an opportunity to reflect. And once again it will, because of its system, be unable to do so. And so nothing will change, but for this one very public success, China will for the next decade after lose the ability to control the narrative of how to describe America to its own people. Instead the Chinese People will simply look up and point, “They went to Mars and we haven’t even been to the Moon yet. What else is there to say?”