Could China's Long March 9 Reinvigorate U.S. Space Program?

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After 25 years at Aviation Week in nine different jobs, it's hard not to have some memorable moments.

One that stands out is a celebration that Aviation Week held on Dec. 17, 2003, to commemorate the centennial of the Wright Brothers' first flight and look forward to what we dubbed The Next Century of Flight.

Three men who walked on the Moon and many other luminaries attended the event at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

My favorite part of the evening was having an honest-to-God conversation with Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the Moon and Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 12. "How long will it be before we return to the Moon," I asked Bean.

"Twenty years," he opined. "But if the Chinese decide to go there, we'll do it in five."

"Go China!," I responded, reasoning that if the only way of getting some urgency back into the U.S. manned space program was a little competition, so be it.

Now, almost 10 years into the Next Century of Flight, it looks like China is getting serious about its own Moon plans, proposing a Long March 9 launcher more powerful than the Saturn V stack that first carried men to the Moon.

The 1960s space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was good for both countries, stirring national pride, helping to drive their economies and even providing some common ground at a time when both sides were also prepared for nuclear war. Maybe news of the new Chinese booster with the capability of carrying 287,000 lb. to low-earth orbit will motivate Republicans and Democrats alike to restore the U.S. to the space leadership position it achieved in the 1960s.

Good luck to the rocket men and women of China and the U.S.

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