China On The Moon
A few weeks ago, a Jade Rabbit landed on the moon. It is the first time in 37 years that anything has landed on (as opposed to smashed into) the moon. It’s been over four decades since the United States has been there.
If you had told me back in 1972 that no living creature would walk on the moon for over 40 years I would not have believed you. If in 1976 as the Russians landed the last craft there you had told me that not only would a human not venture back, but that no country would set another machine on the moon for 37 years I would have known you were crackers. And while I might have entertained the idea that China could land there, I would have been incredulous to think that both Russia and the U.S. would have backed off further exploration.
Yet that is exactly what happened.
The Chinese performed the first soft-landing on the moon since the Russians last did it. The craft then lowered a ramp and out rolled the Jade Rabbit to explore the lava plain known as the Bay of Rainbows.
Although we’re not on the moon, our space program has been doing something for the last 40 years. Right now rovers are crawling over the surface of Mars and one of our earlier spacecraft has reached the edge of our solar system. There is a space station circling Earth, and our space shuttle program has come and gone. But we are not expanding our reach into the cosmos, rather we are pulling in our reins. At least the financial reins.
I know that there are many people, perhaps the majority, who believe space exploration is a waste of money—an endeavor we can only afford once all the problems on Earth are solved. Let me make a prediction: We will all be dead before that happens. No, I believe that we need to continue to expand our exploration and knowledge of space (and the ocean, too) in spite of the other problems we have.
But I’m not worried. In fact I’m less concerned about our lack of progress than I’ve been in many years. You see, I’m not deluded to believe that we went to the moon in the first place as a scientific mission. No, that was the motivation of the scientists. Nor do I think we did it because wanted to do what no one else had. No, that was the motivation of the astronauts. We did it because either we were gonna get there first or the Russians were. And if there is anything Americans like, it’s competition.
So, thank you, China, for putting your little Jade Rabbit on our planet’s satellite. You are nowhere near us in capabilities or achievements, but you’ve come a long way since we last left footprints up there. Maybe you’ll do something that scares us back into a space race of sorts, where funding would no longer be an issue. Or maybe you will do something so extraordinary that our people will be afraid of being left behind. Like I said, Americans like competition.
This article was published under the title "Jade Rabbit a call for U.S. to get off its duff"
in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on January 26, 2014.