Chair Force Engineer

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Paint the ISS red

The idea of a US-Chinese cooperation in manned spaceflight is actually in discussion; this is quite revolutionary when considering that China was a Cold War enemy (at least until Nixon's visit,) and when considering many American misconceptions about China's manned space program.

I, for one, would like to see China join the ISS alliance. From an American perspective, there are many benefits to consider. Competition between the Chinese Shenzhou and Russian Soyuz will control the price on flights to the ISS. It will also make China more transparent about any military applications of Shenzhou, such as remote surveilance. For the Americans who are afraid of China landing on the moon (something that I feel is very far off, not for another 20 years or more,) involving them in ISS ensures that the US can keep tabs on China's manned space activities. Cynically, the ISS can be viewed as a quagmire from which China's space program will never be able to escape, and never go to the moon.

I don't want to immediately welcome China into the ISS alliance with open arms. I want China to demonstrate its capabilities on its own, and make them earn a spot in the ISS alliance. Let them put Shenzhou through its paces, shake it down, and demonstrate its capabilities before docking it to the ISS.

At the same time, there are some opportunities for improving space cooperation with China before Shenzhou is fully proven. US technical advice (within the ITAR boundaries) might prove useful. An agreement to rescue stranded Shenzhou crews with the shuttle might be a welcome paper gesture. In light of China's slow pace in launching Shenzhou missions, a small number of Taikonauts could fly on Shuttle and Soyuz missions.

The shifting American attitudes represent a good chance for opening China's secretive space program up and fostering beneficial cooperatin between the US and China. At the same time, China should be put on notice that any cooperation should be on an equal playing field, instead of the US playing a parental role in advancing China's spaceflight program.