U.S. must answer China challenge
China shot down an aging Chinese weather satellite -- a signal that China will not abide by the doctrine of U.S. space superiority outlined in the new National Space Policy released in October by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The policy states that "freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power." Further, it declares that the United States reserves the right to "deny such freedom of action to adversaries."
That was a very large bet, and it appears that Chinese President Hu Jintao has quickly called our hand. Which raises the question: What cards are we holding?
The aggressive U.S. position rests on what the National Space Policy calls a "solid civil, commercial and national security space foundation." This foundation was established by a consortium of the military and aerospace giants and is increasingly maintained by a flock of entrepreneurial startups. The policy further states, "In this new century, those who effectively utilize space will enjoy added prosperity and security and will hold a substantial advantage over those who do not."
Clearly, China intends to grab that added prosperity. After successful manned launches, it (as well as India) has announced plans to land on the moon in the same time frame as a scheduled U.S. return. That return is in question as a new Congress looking for easy budget cuts faces a nation apathetic about space achievements.
Recent surveys show the U.S. public generally uninterested in the new agenda of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. My experience suggests they are mostly unaware of recent private manned space efforts conducted by those aforementioned startups.
Why should we care about missiles threatening low Earth orbit• When the Chinese get on with re-absorbing Taiwan -- the most likely trigger for a U.S.-China confrontation -- U.S. drivers may find that the navigation systems in their SUVs (not to mention their ambulances) aren't working. Low-flying U.S. military spy satellites are the first target of the new weapon but the slightly higher GPS (global positioning system) satellites that guide our weapons systems are also attractive to Chinese war planners.
Or, what about when the censorship-savvy Chinese government decides it has had enough of Howard Stern corrupting the youth and takes out Sirius satellite radio?
Could we respond to such hostile actions• Certainly, we could file a diplomatic protest, as we did with this month's test and as we do when the Chinese blatantly steal U.S. intellectual property. Beyond that, there's not a lot to be done short of a military assault on Chinese space-launch facilities.
Satellites are expensive to launch and nearly impossible to defend. Because they are ultra-lightweight, any sort of physical shielding or anti-missile system is impractical. Orbital mechanics prevent acrobatic maneuvers and GPS must maintain reliable positions. Don't expect to see concrete enforcement of the National Space Policy.
Congress and the American people must recognize the strategic truth in the policy's warning about prosperity. Prosperity always has been directly related to a nation's level of exploration and innovation. Shakespeare has Brutus remind us that "there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallow and miseries."
It is not lost on China's leaders that their great nation forfeited world leadership by suddenly abandoning an ambitious program of naval exploration in the 15th century. This withdrawal was followed by a period of painful national humiliation at the hands of foreign barbarians.
That error will not be repeated. China has made it clear that it will aggressively assert its space policy at every turn. The United States must be prepared to compete in space if we intend to remain prosperous and relevant in the 21st century.
Supporting exploration and investing in the new generation of space technology companies are critical to our national security. In the long run, the sands of the moon are far more important than the sands of Iraq.
Greg Autry is a lecturer on business strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of California, Irvine.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fatal HOV lane crash in Ross under investigation
- Police charge New Florence man in St. Clair officer’s killing
- Penn State coach fires offensive coordinator
- New Kensington man killed in North Buffalo crash
- Travelers advised to arrive 2 hours early for flights from Pittsburgh International Airport
- Man surrenders after standoff in Middle Hill
- Indiana Twp. liver transplant recipient, 2, takes steps toward normal life
- Zatkoff’s, Malkin’s heroics not enough as Oilers down Penguins in shootout
- Police officer fatally shot in New Florence; suspect in custody
- America could use more concealed carry gun permit holders
- New Christmas decorations make Leechburg shine a little brighter