Washington, USA: Recent budget cuts for NASA, compared to a well staffed and well budgeted space effort by China, may well see the Red Flag being planted on the moon ahead of the Star and Stripes. NASA administrator Michel Griffin delivered this discomfiting message to the US Congress this week.
Citing the current status of the Chinese manned space programme, as well as its projected growth, Griffin told the House Committee on Science and Technology on Thursday that China could conceivably land a man on the moon in a decade's time. NASA is not likely to step on the lunar surface, at the very earliest, before 2019, according to current projections.
"I cannot speculate and won't speculate on what China's intentions are. I just don't know that," said Griffin, in response to questioning from California Rep. Ken Calvert. "As a matter of technical capability and political will, if the Chinese choose to do so, they can mount a lunar mission within a reasonable number of years, say a decade."
Griffin also equated the current state of China's space program, as roughly equivalent to NASA's expertise following the Gemini missions of the mid-'60s, though it has better technology at its command. The communist nation also has a larger workforce at its command, employing around 200,000 people, as compared to NASA's 75,000.
The NASA administrator would appear to have struck a sympathetic chord at the Congress with his testimony, as several congressmen, Republicans and Democrats alike, complained about the lack of funding for NASA, given its ambitious goals.
"I'm afraid NASA is headed for a train wreck if things don't change," said committee chairman Rep Bart Gordon.