While the West wrestles with post-financial crisis debt and deficit budgeting, China has issued a white paper outlining its ambitions in the most money-hungry of human enterprises - space exploration. Over the next five years three new rockets in development will make their first flights, including a Long March 5 with the payload capacity necessary to launch a manned orbital space station by 2020. By this time it also expects to have the technology for putting men on the moon.
Mainland leaders have made it clear that space is to be a top national development priority. Goals for the next five years are testament to the great strides made since China launched a manned spacecraft into orbit in 2003. The latest example is the news that the Beidou satellite navigation system has become operational and will eventually rival the dominant US GPS system. With the US and Europe scrutinising pending for cost-effectiveness, a China flush with cash is in a good position to expand its space programme and perhaps catch up faster than expected.
The white paper is timely given concerns over the lack of transparency in the past. Since space is a frontier of humankind that will beckon eternally, China should be transparent and co-operative with other space powers. In reality, space has already been militarised. Evidence of that includes missile shots by both the US and China to destroy a defective spy satellite and an ageing weather satellite respectively. While an international treaty bans nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction from space, nations must also act to limit the types and lethal nature of conventional weapons that may be deployed. Peaceful exploration should serve to bring great powers together for the betterment of mankind through advances in science and technology. Given the cost of missions that push man's last frontier out further, that makes sense.