I personally don’t believe a recent news story has received nearly enough attention: on Saturday, 27 September 2008 a Chinese astronaut made a successful spacewalk from a Chinese craft.
Why do I say this?
In less than two years the Space Shuttles are scheduled to be retired, leaving the United States without the capability to get manned missions into orbit. Meanwhile, we’ll be paying the Russians to get to the International Space Station and the Chinese will be progressing toward their stated goal of putting a Chinese astronaut on the moon.
Here’s a quick reminder: the United States went from the first spacewalk to landing men on the moon in 4 years and 1 month. I don’t think there’s anything standing in China’s way from doing the exact same thing. (Though according to Wikipedia their plans aren’t nearly that ambitious time-wise.)
I bring this up because I’m quite concerned about the United States’ competitive capacity and ability to innovate on the governmental level. While smaller firms have seen good success (Scaled Composites with the X Prize/Virgin Galactic, SpaceX with modern launch vehicles) I feel we’re falling behind on major government-level initiatives. That it’s feasible in five years’ time that the United States has to pay Russia just to get into space while China is landing missions on the moon at will is unacceptable. It’s a competitiveness issue and a national security issue, and it needs to be better understood by Americans.