In the last 24 hours, two notable events occured. Senators John McCain & Barak Obama squared off for their first televised debate for the U.S. Presidency. On the other side of the world, astronaut Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese national to perform an orbital spacewalk. Having watched both events, I decided to write on the more interesting of the two.
Let me start off by saying I am a HUGE fan of manned spaceflight. When I was a child, all I wanted to be was an astronaut. My parents have pictures of me standing at Kennedy Space Center as a five year old with the ill fated Apollo 13 resting on it's launch pad in the distance. I got to stay home from school the day the Space Shuttle first launched in 1981 because it was so important for me to see it live.
It's been unfortunate that with the end of the Cold War, NASA's budget has been slashed dramatically. The fact that we landed on the moon in 1969, but have not been to Mars by 2008, is inexcusable. President Bush setting a goal in 2004 of returning to the moon and then funding a Mars landing has been one of the higher points of his presidency. (Although it lacked the charisma of John Kennedy casting the vision which originally took us to the moon.)
That is why I was so excited to see China beginning to develop a serious space program. This afternoon, Astronaut Zhai Zhigang stepped out of his spacecraft and performed a 15 minute spacewalk. True, its something America did 40 years ago, but China has set a serious goal of landing a man on the moon by 2020.
I watched a clip of the launch today on the BBC and realized that it doesn't matter whether it's China, Russia, or the United States, when man reaches for the stars, I get goose bumps. Perhaps a little interplanetary competition is what the U.S. Congress needs to get it's act together and fund NASA adequately.
Until then, "God Speed Zhai Zhigang"