Sunday, June 16, 2013

Florida Today Moons Posey

Last summer, Space Coast Rep. Bill Posey made false claims to Florida Today that China was planning a military colony on the Moon. It's a claim he's made several times since elected to office in 2008.

I wrote a letter to the editor challenging Posey's claim, noting he's never offered any proof to back it up.

Posey responded with his own editorial letter. He wrote:

It is naive to think that Russia and China have no desire to dominate space, or that they lack the capability to reach the moon. A January 2010 report from The Washington Times quotes Chinese officials stating they are developing plans to reach the moon by 2022 and are building three space stations.

I checked the Washington Times archives and found that, once again, Mr. Posey's claim was untrue.

Titled “China Space Program Shoots for Moon,” it was an opinion column — not a news report by a journalist — written by John J. Tkacik, identified as “a retired Foreign Service officer” who was “chief of China analysis in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research during the Clinton administration.”

Mr. Tkacik's column said nothing about China wanting a Moon colony. This is what he really wrote:

Senior Chinese space officials have told their state media that China could be on the moon by 2022 at the outside. Other authoritative Chinese space engineers see a moon landing as a next step in the Tiangong program that will launch three Chinese space stations into Earth orbit between 2011 and 2015. In 2008, NASA scientists told the Bush White House that, with the technology currently available to the Chinese space program, Chinese cosmonauts could be on the moon by 2017.

No authoritative source and no documented plan to build a moon colony. Just rumor and speculation that China might land on the Moon some day.

I forwarded the article to the Florida Today editors and asked them to follow up, but heard nothing more.

Today's edition, however, might be that response.

John Kelly's Sunday space column directly addresses fantastical claims about the Chinese space program.

Don’t fall prey to the politically-driven hysteria or, in some cases, just sloppy journalism ...

Even with their accelerated and possibly well-funded, military-driven approach to a human space program, all indicators are that the China effort is going to take a decade and probably multiple decades to catch up to where the international station partners are now.

Kelly doesn't mention Rep. Posey by name, but I have to wonder if our local Congressman was who Kelly had in mind when he wrote this:

... [A]ny political and even media buzz about the Chinese being a threat to U.S. space superiority is just jawboning by people trying to prey on the average voter’s lack of geopolitical knowledge, to try to stir up outdated Cold War sentiments that might fuel a budget hike for NASA or our military space projects.

Space policy analyst Marcia Smith wrote June 11 on her blog that Tuesday's Shenzhou 10 launch was only the fifth in the history of the Chinese human spaceflight program. She notes:

The Tiangong-1 space station is a small (8.6 metric ton) module. As first space stations go, it is rather modest — just less than half the mass of the world's first space station, Salyut 1. Launched in 1971, it had a mass of about 18.6 metric tons. The first U.S. space station, Skylab, launched in 1973, had a mass of about 77 metric tons. Today's International Space Station (ISS), a partnership among the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe, and Canada, has a mass of about 400 metric tons and has been permanently occupied by 2-6 person crews rotating on 4-6 month missions since the year 2000.

In the article “An Analysis of the Space Policies of the Major Space Faring Nations and Selected Emerging Space Faring Nations,” Canadian Space Agency policy analyst Graham Gibbs writes:

Contrary to some opinions, China has not had a firm plan for a human landing on the Moon even though studies are reportedly underway. A White Paper, published in late December 2011, mentioned a human mission to the Moon for the first time but only in the context of studies. It states “China will conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing.”

Gibbs cites Lewis Page, a former Royal Navy officer, who comments in a December 30, 2011 article:

Most media have chosen to focus on Beijing's vague aspirations toward deep-space and manned exploration, but in fact the concrete details given all point toward a primary emphasis on strategic advantage for China here on Earth.

This week, Posey's House space subcommittee will begin work on the 2013 NASA authorization bill. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. Hopefully Florida Today and Space Coast voters will monitor Rep. Posey's comments to assure he keeps his “facts” factual.

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