The Virginian-Pilot , Just about anywhere outside of China, the news that the glorious People's Army had catapulted a man into outer space was greeted with a yawn about as wide and as deep as the Yangtze River. Been there, done that.
But not so on the op-ed pages of some of America's finest newspapers — including our own Downtown Font of Knowledge — where news of a lone Chinese pilot being vaulted into the sky caused some to believe that the sky itself would soon be falling on our red-white-and-blue-blooded American shoulders, unless we do something, and jack-quick.
E.J. “Jake'' Garn, a former Republican senator from Utah and one-time Navy flyboy, seemed to have come totally unglued in an essay published Wednesday, in which he gasped that the Chinese “have their eyes on the moon, Mars and beyond.''
Garn dropped an apocalyptic, patriot-game challenge in his closing paragraph, in which he unloaded this call to arms for a massive commitment to more manned space flights: “The question for our country is this: Do we cede the future of human space flight, and the future in general, to them or another nation?''
'Scuse me, Jake. The “future in general'' relies on our leaping into a space race with “them''? A race that was run 42 years ago, when the United States and Soviet Union first pulled this trick?
This is the same commie-frightmare logic that got us locked into a “missile gap'' competition with the Soviets in the 1950s, only to discover years later that we could have counted their actual, working missiles on our fingers, without having to move down to our toes.
Garn is not the only space-fantasy guru who's flattening his worry-beads over the Chinese flight. At a meeting in New Orleans, billed as a “geospatial intelligence conference,'' a former aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld opined Wednesday, “I believe space is the place we will fight in the next 20 years.''
Maybe I'm cynical, but the fact that the speaker, Rich Haver, is now a vice president at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems — entrenched and drooling at the business end of the military-contracts trough — made me just a tad skeptical of his motives.
The Soviets had a first-rate manned-space program for 30 years, and look what it got them. They now rent space-flight seats to rock stars and bored millionaires. They're so far behind in fulfilling their commitments to the International Space Station that they're threatening its viability.
One satiric online publication, The Onion, opined that the bedraggled Russian space program was falling behind because of a “plywood shortage.''
Before we allow the Jake Garns of the world to spook us into another megabillion-dollar round of dubious manned-space achievements, we should remember how the Russians got into the shape they're in today — to a fair degree, by Ronald Reagan goading them into unloading their dwindling treasury into a ruinous competition over space-based “Star Wars'' military technology.
Wouldn't it be a sad moment in the annals of geopolitical strategy if we fell into the same trap with the Chinese that we sprung on the Russians 20 years ago?
Jake Garn's essay had another weird bent to it. He wrote, “Through age, natural catastrophe or by our own hand, life on Earth has a finite amount of time left. For the human species to go on, we must go out into the far and promising reaches of space.''
It seems that what Garn really fears is that the day is coming — and coming soon — when we're all looking for intergalactic real estate to settle upon, only to find that the Chinese got there first and have staked out all the best neighborhoods.
We have real issues to settle with China, but they involve more earthbound questions — fair-trade policies, human rights for its work force, environmental protection, wanton theft of intellectual property, and so forth.
Contrary to what the Chicken Littles of the Jake Garn space-cadet corps will tell you, nobody reading this — or their grandchildren, or their great-great-grandchildren — need worry about the Impending Epic Struggle between the U.S. and China over the price of condos on Neptune.