The Corner

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Lost in Space


A baffling line in today’s New York Times story on China’s upcoming manned space mission: “China’s leaders have invested significant resources in their secretive military-affiliated space program and have tried to stir nationalist sentiment about the project, as the United States and the Soviet Union did in the 1960’s.” The U.S. space program was secretive? Granted, technical details were kept under wraps, but the public became deeply familiar with the Mercury 7 team (Alan Shephard, John Glenn, etc.) and had a good grasp of what they were doing. In China, the public does not know the following: 1. The date of their manned orbiter’s launch; 2. How many people will be on board (it’s presumed to be one, but could be as many as three); and 3. The names of the astronauts in the Chinese space program. And as for “stir[ring] nationalist sentiment”: Okay, Americans took patriotic pride in their space program–but it’s absurd to suggest that a fundamental motivation of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations was to prop up their regimes with space stunts. The Chinese will feel good in their nation’s accomplishment in space, too–as well they should. But let’s remember that the U.S. space program had much to do with winning the Cold War (and thereby defending liberty) whereas the Chinese one has much to do with legitimizing a government of questionable legitimacy.