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Subcommittee Examines China's Space Exploration Capabilities and Achievements

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Democrats
Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Today, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Space held a hearing entitled, “Are We Losing the Space Race to China?” The purpose of this hearing was to discuss China’s technological advancements and increasing capabilities in space.

Ranking Member of the Space Subcommittee, Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) said in her opening statement, “President John F. Kennedy stood before Congress on May 25, 1961 proposing that ‘this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.’ Following a series of interim achievements that demonstrated NASA’s ability to dock and perform Extravehicular Activities in space, the space race ended with the successful July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 landing of the first humans on the Moon. How different would today’s world be if NASA had not responded to President Kennedy’s challenge?

“Now, almost 50 years since that historic event, some are asking if we are again in a space race, but this time with China. Two weeks ago, China successfully placed in orbit its Tiangong-2 experimental orbiting space lab. And that accomplishment comes on the heels of China’s landing a robotic rover on the Moon, with plans announced to do the same on Mars. So, should we be concerned that China is may be closing the gap in spaceflight capabilities?”

Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said in her statement for the record, “This morning’s hearing poses an interesting question, ‘Are We Losing the Space Race with China?’ This question presupposes that we are in a space race with China, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on whether they agree with that premise.

“In any event, the reality is that China is an emerging power in space, and is advancing in both its civil and military space capabilities. As a result, I think that the most pertinent questions are, what does China’s progress in space mean for the United States and, in particular, for the U.S. space program—and how should we respond to that progress?”

Members and witnesses discussed the potential risks and benefits associated with a U.S.-China collaboration in space and the importance of maintaining a strong and robust program to prevent the appearance of the U.S. falling behind China.

Dr. James Lewis, Senior Vice President and Director, Strategic Technologies Program, Center for Strategic & International Studies said in his written testimony, “We could argue that China may be following an outdated recipe for superpower status, but this assumes that space activities have lost their political salience. What is more worrisome than China ‘winning’ any race is the U.S. ‘losing’ from indifference, and what this says about our national capabilities. If human space flight is an assertion by China of its growing power, what does the absence of human program say about the U.S.? Human spaceflight is one of the trappings of superpower status. China currently lacks the technological capability to match the U.S. in space, but we lack the ability to put humans in orbit. If China ‘wins,’ it will not be because of better technology. It will be because of a better strategy and greater commitment.”

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