China just released its latest space exploration plans, according to Chinese state media, and it turns out the Middle Kingdom plans to put taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) on the moon ahead of schedule. Bloomberg had the story:
The space rivalry between the U.S. and China is suddenly heating up after a top Chinese scientist said his nation may be able to send astronauts to the moon for the first time by 2030.
Coming just weeks after President Joe Biden’s top space official set out a similar timetable for new American lunar exploration, the comments set up the possibility of dueling missions between the two of the world’s best-financed space powers.
While China has made no secret of its desire to launch crewed lunar missions, the optimistic outlook from Chinese Academy of Sciences member Ye Peijian raises the possibility of an accelerated timetable to match the Americans.
“As long as the technological research for manned moon landing continues, and as long as the country is determined, it is entirely possible for China to land people on the moon before 2030,” Ye told state broadcaster CCTV, according to a report on Sunday from the official Xinhua News Agency.
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China is untrustworthy enough when it comes to pronouncements of what it has already accomplished, let alone bold predictions about future accomplishments, so we take the rising superpower’s claims with a grain of salt (or rice, if you prefer). All the same, China boasts impressive achievements in space technology as of late.
In 2019, for example, China made history by becoming the first country to land a probe on the dark side of the moon, and then proceeded to become the first country to grow plants on the moon. This summer, China even matched the US’s feat of landing a rover on Mars.
However seriously we choose to take China’s ambitious moonshot prediction, we would be foolish not to take the occasion to revisit America’s own plans to repeat a manned mission to the moon.
Officially, the United States is definitely landing its astronauts on the moon by 2025.
Toward this end, NASA launched the Artemis program in 2017, with an original goal of reaching the Moon by 2028. Notably, even at the beginning of the program, NASA already allotted itself three extra years than it took the original Apollo program to go from inception to lunar landing — and that was despite the fact that, unlike Apollo, Artemis wasn’t starting from scratch.
The Artemis program itself is a scaled-back, less-ambitious version of President George W. Bush’s 2004 proposal, in the wake of the Columbia disaster, to send Americans back to the moon as a prelude to a manned Mars mission. Naturally, that proposal got about as far as making CGI concept art of Americans on Mars before stalling out.
In 2019, Vice President Pence proudly announced that Artemis’s timetable would be accelerated by four years, with a moon landing planned for 2024. Straightforward enough, right? Seven years to do what America did half a century before in eight.
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To land on the moon in 2024, Artemis required:
- New spacesuits
- A new heavy launch rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS)
- A landing module, the Human Landing System (HLS), capable of supporting two humans on the lunar surface for a full week.
And hey, America already did all of this fifty years ago, so how hard could it be?
You know the answer. Two years have passed since Pence’s announcement of a sped-up timeline, and none of the three core elements above are complete. Expectations are already dropping faster than the fragments of an exploded space shuttle. The goal was actually 2024 until this spring, when acting NASA director Steve Jurczyk said it was no longer a “realistic” target due to insufficient funds. In August, the delay to 2025 became official when the agency’s inspector general said that, thanks to Covid-19 delays, it would take until at least April 2025 to produce two Moon-ready space suits.
Yes, you got that right. The original Manhattan Project went from creation to Trinity test in less than four years: today, America takes longer than that to design a space suit, according to Slate:
The new line of spacesuits just falls short in one minorly important way: hitting deadlines. Originally, these spacesuits were supposed to be tested on the ISS in 2023 with a target date for the Artemis missions in 2028. After Trump’s acceleration, NASA required xEMU suits to be delivered for mission integration by March 31, 2023. Well, that’s not going to happen—with over 20 months of delays currently on the books.
Misaligned schedules between various NASA offices have compounded issues in intra-agency coordination. Coordination is extra complicated because NASA is “assembling the spacesuit from components supplied by 27 different contractors and vendors.”
The last point is particularly telling. Back in 1965, Playtex designed and sewed its contract-winning prototype spacesuit in just six weeks. Just two corporations handled the manufacture of the original Apollo suits. But in today’s “everyone gets a piece” federal behemoth, even products designed to be used by a single human being are farmed out to more than two dozen companies. The mess around the Artemis space suit calls to mind the disastrous trillion-dollar F-35 fighter boondoggle, which has stayed alive for more than two decades in part because Lockheed Martin farmed out parts parts production for the fighter to forty-five U.S. states, giving almost every part of the country an economic stake in the program’s perpetuation.
Revolver spoke with a scientist with decades of experience working with NASA and a a strong familiarity with its current operations. He said that while it is technically possible for NASA to hit its 2025 timetable, more delays are nearly a certainty.
“By 2025? Right now I’d say 10% chance, maybe less,” the scientist said. “Everything would have to go right, and it never does, especially in the modern diversity-first NASA. And on top of everything going right, they have to not lose political will.”
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A sober look at the progress of the launch rocket (SLS) and landing module (HLS) suggests that this seemingly dour prognosis is actually optimistic.
Let’s consider the launch rocket first.
To this day, the most powerful rocket in US history remains the F-1 rocket engine. This was the engine used to propel the Apollo moon missions. But today, American rocket engineers are incapable of reproducing the F-1. They have evidently lost skills and know-how to match earlier achievements from generations ago.
In other words, antiquated technology is as elusive to us today as future technology. America reached its high water mark for a task as rote and mechanical as rocket power over 50 years ago.
And this is not for lack of throwing money at the problem. The Space Launch System (“SLS”), the launch rocket intended for the Artemis program, was supposed to be NASA’s solution to America’s rocket impotence problem. NASA began development on SLS 10 years ago, and despite costs to taxpayers ballooning up to $20 billion and counting, it still has never even launched.
For some perspective, note that the entire Apollo space program from 1961-1972 cost roughly 200 billion in today’s dollars. That is 200 billion (inflation adjusted) dollars for every aspect of the Apollo program: R&D, government contracts, labor, promotion, and six successful manned moon missions spanning over a decade, including the first ever manned moon mission in history. And this was all achieved with pre-pocket calculator technology!
Now, over a half century later we have spent so far spent 10 percent (inflation adjusted) of the entire Apollo program’s budget on a rocket that has still never even launched.
NASA’s SLS has done nothing but miss deadlines, fail tests, and burn through budgets for a decade. It has been a beached whale. Indeed, when all is said and done the total cost of the SLS rocket could very well exceed 50 or even 100 billion– and this is just one of several components necessary to repeat one successful manned moon mission.
When Americans squander decades of time and billions of dollars only to get nothing in return, they can rest assured a defense contractor is lurking somewhere in the storyline.
And sure enough, just as was the case with the James Webb Hubble Telescope, military contractors have cleaned out the US Treasury’s piggy bank as they failed their way forward.
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With the James Webb telescope it was Northrop Grumman; for the SLS, the prime contractor is Boeing.
If things are looking bleak for rocket development, perhaps things are looking more optimistic with the lunar landing module, which is another major component that would be necessary for a manned moon mission.
So far the story of the lunar module’s development has been the story of intense competition between two of the richest men in world history, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. For some interesting perspective, Musk and Bezos each possess a net worth that exceeds the budget of the entire Apollo program. The fact that these two wealthy resourceful titans have exhibited considerable dedication to producing the lunar lander would seem to speak well to the lander’s prospects.
Sadly, the competition between Musk’s Space X and Bezos’ Blue Origin has so far only impeded the lunar lander’s development. After NASA awarded a 6 billion contract to Musk’s Space X to build the lunar lander, Bezos’ Blue Origin engaged in a vigorous legal battle challenging the propriety of the contract process during which time all development of the lunar lander had to be halted. Courts recently ruled in favor of Space X, allowing for development to resume, though recent progress reports are not terribly encouraging:
Though SpaceX technically hasn’t started building a prototype of the actual Starship Moon lander that will returns humans to the lunar surface, every single Starship and Super Heavy booster it builds and tests mature’s the foundation of that crewed variant’s design, as well as the fleet of boosters and ships that will be required to fuel it in orbit. By all appearances, Starship S20 – the first completed orbital-class prototye – has passed all the tests thrown at it and is ready for the program’s first orbital-velocity launch attempt. If the speed of recent testing continues, Super Heavy Booster 4 may not be far behind it. [Teslarati.com]
If you ignore the window-dressing, you’ll see above that it’s not just that Space X isn’t done with the lunar module, and it’s not even that they’re not quite done with a prototype–they haven’t even started building a prototype! It is safe to say based on this lack of progress that we won’t be seeing a functional lunar module anytime soon — and no great loss, because the SLS rocket that the lunar lander would attach to is nowhere near completion either!
This sorry state of affairs should perhaps not be too surprising. There is no reason that same toxic stew of corporate sluggishness, bureaucratic incompetence, and woke pathology that thwarts every other would-be great achievement in America shouldn’t apply to space travel as well.
In America, the highest goal is not success in the sense that our forefathers would understand. America isn’t trying to put a person back on the moon. It’s trying to put the first woman and first person of color on the moon. In September, NASA even released a comic book to celebrate this currently-nonexistent achievement:
NASA released its first digital, interactive graphic novel on Saturday in celebration of National Comic Book Day. “First Woman: NASA’s Promise for Humanity” imagines the story of Callie Rodriguez, the first woman to explore the Moon.
While Callie’s story is fictional, the first woman and the first person of color will walk on the Moon, achieving these historic milestones as part of NASA’s Artemis missions. Through this graphic novel, NASA aims to inspire the next generation of explorers – the Artemis Generation.
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NASA wants diversity, colleges want diversity, America’s physicists want diversity, both of America’s political parties want diversity. Who actually wants to go to the moon?
So, given current trends, China will (probably) beat America back to Earth’s sole satellite. And make no mistake, losing this race does matter. A lunar landing might be seen as a frivolity, but it’s an important symbol of how far America has decayed as a scientific superpower. It’s easy to make excuses for America not achieving new things as rapidly as it once did, but it’s far harder to explain why, despite all of the money, time, promises, and extended deadlines, America now seems likely to fail at something it achieved fifty-two years ago in an era that hadn’t even invented the pocket calculator.
This was 50 years ago, a feat achieved with pre-pocket calculator technology, that no advanced nation has been able to replicate since pic.twitter.com/59kRRKVFil
— Darren J. Beattie 🌐 (@DarrenJBeattie) December 20, 2021
America losing the second space race would show that, for the first time in nearly 70 years, America’s status as the premier scientific power on the globe is in jeopardy. For today’s regime, which cloaks its theology in the garb of Science, this is a deadly development.
As today’s America falls short on objective markers of success, it will turn more toward subjective ones that reflect the ideological prison it has built for itself. Sure, America’s ruling class will assure itself, China may be launching space missions that are more timely, more efficient, and more technically impressive, but we are the nation that will put the first woman on the moon, the first black on the moon, the first transgender on the Moon. China may have more vulgar earthly achievements, but America has the correct woke religion.
Without a dramatic course correction, America’s loss of technical (and eventually economic) preeminence will be impossible to hide. It will be impossible for many to accept such a total indictment of America’s policy choices in the years since 1969. Americans, even “conservative” ones, will not want to admit that America’s anti-white, anti-male, pro-crime, diversity-first civic religion was a cataclysmic error. And so, rather than admit America’s decline, many will decide that America simply never achieved much in the first place.
With the passage of time, a growing portion of the population simply thinks the original lunar landings never happened. In a 2019 poll, those over 54 (old enough to personally remember the landings) were essentially unanimous in rejecting skeptical theories about it, but of those under 35 nearly one in five believed the landings were fake.
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Why should we be surprised? Young Americans today look at the America of today and see a country that bungled Covid and Afghanistan, a country that fumbles its greatest projects, a country that actively wages war on its most talented and productive for the sake of its most anti-social and parasitic. To them, it is unfathomable that the U.S. government of today could ever, from scratch, with pre-pocket calculator technology, organize and execute something as technically demanding as a a moon landing, with the whole process taking less than a decade. Unable to imagine how much greater America once was as a country, young Americans instead imagine the past was as much of a joke as today.
But the truth, of course, is that old America simply was a better country. Old America was such an industrial powerhouse that it crushed both Germany and Japan at the same time while supplying a huge portion of the war material used by its allies. Old America completed the Manhattan Project from inception to nuclear test just three years, then launched its first nuclear-powered submarine just ten years after that. As we wrote back in September, while discussing the oft-delayed launch of the James Webb Telescope:
In the 1960s, America’s frenzied push for national excellence was so powerful, that it eagerly employed Wernher von Braun, a former SS member implicated in the use of slave labor by the Third Reich. In contrast, is there any doubt today that any NASA engineer, no matter how talented or important, would be completely ruined if a tape surfaced of them using the N-word five years ago?
Old America really was capable of dramatic, large-scale, centrally-organized advancement at a rapid speed, because it was a country that cultivated, rewarded, and celebrated merit and ability. Even more importantly, it didn’t actively sabotage merit and ability in the name of buzzwords like “diversity” and “equity.”
If America’s leaders simply recognized the superiority of old America, not in a wistful nostalgic sense but in a practical way that recognizes what it did better, then they could quickly start setting this country on the path to recovery. They might even manage to get America back to the moon ahead of China.
But America’s leaders will not do that. First, adopting a real merit-based system would mean an instantaneous loss of status for themselves. But even more importantly, adopting such a system is simply not thinkable for them. America’s leaders are actively repulsed by the very idea of a society that prioritizes greatness and excellence over resentment and grievance. And when a society’s leaders despise greatness, why should we expect anything great from them?