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October 15, 2003

China in outer space

Today, the Chinese put a man in space. US newspapers explain that the Communist Party is trying to establish China as a great power—rich and technologically advanced—and to impress its own people. Much the same was said about America's motivations for the Apollo Project. Allegedly, presidents Kennedy and Johnson sent people into space to impress the world with the superiority of democracy and capitalism. I don't know if this is the best historical explanation. However, assuming that NASA was created for propaganda purposes, that doesn't strike me as the worst thing. Our system was superior to the Communist alternative, and demonstrating its success may have been worthwhile. Space travel was harmless; it had some scientific value; and the symbolism was cosmopolitan or humanistic as well as nationalistic. ("One great step for mankind ....") To be sure, we could have spent the money impressing the world by reducing misery and diseases. In fact, we did launch the War on Poverty and the War on Cancer in the same era, only to falter in the eighties. We also fought a shooting war in Vietnam that didn't work out too well. In that context, the Apollo project seems reasonably honorable to me, even if it was primarily for show. Similarly, the Chinese space program is not as wise as spending the same money on poverty-reduction; but it's far better than showing off by invading Taiwan or testing new nuclear weapons (the approach India has chosen).

October 15, 2003 12:25 PM | category: none


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