Monday, June 13, 2011

Cernan Urges China to Go to the Moon

Apollo-era astronaut Eugene Cernan at a press conference in China on June 7. Photo source: China Daily.

Last May 25, Apollo-era astronauts Neil Armstrong, James Lovell and Eugene Cernan published a joint opinion column in Florida Today which claimed President Obama was dismantling the U.S. human space flight program for partisan political reasons.

The three warned of "devastating effects to the plans, program and morale of those trying to keep America in the forefront of exploring the universe and expanding the human frontier" and claimed that "America’s leadership in space is slipping."

But when he was in China recently, Cernan said he welcomed a Chinese manned lunar mission, according to China Daily.

Cernan is very confident about the future of space exploration.

"We will go back to the Moon, and I believe we will go to Mars within the next generation and a half, and we will do it as an international community," he added.

Concerning China's lunar landing plan, he said China's space program is very logical.

"I look forward to the day when they can join us with" putting people on the Moon, he told China Daily.

The Obama administration's human space flight strategy that Cernan condemned embraces the spirit of international cooperation Cernan endorsed in China. It extends the operational life of the International Space Station to at least 2020, and studies are under way to see if it can be used through 2028. The ISS is operated by a group of fifteen nations, led by the United States and Russia.

According to a March 17, 2010 Aviation Week article, "Chinese space officials have informally expressed interest in sending their astronauts to the ISS" although since that article was published a year ago nothing more formal seems to have transpired.

Cernan's comments seem to be in conflict — does he want the U.S. to be an equal partner with China and other spacefaring nations, or does he expect those nations to willingly play second banana to a supreme American space program? If the latter, I suspect he didn't say that while in China.

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