U.S. losing its lead in space, experts warn Congress

America's once clear dominance in space is eroding as other nations, including China, Iran and North Korea, step up their activities, a panel of experts told the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Thursday.

"Others are catching up fast," said Marty Hauser, vice president for Washington operations at the Foundation, an advocacy organization headquarters in Colorado Springs. "Of particular note over the past decade is the emergence of China's human spaceflight capabilities."

Russia now leads the world in space launches. China recently became the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to send its own astronauts out for a spacewalk.

"China is laying the groundwork for a long-term space program with or without us," said Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University in Washington. "We should worry if we're not out there with them."

China's rocket launch facilities are "state of the art," Hauser said.

In a competition once limited to the U.S. and the Soviet Union, 60 nations now have their own space agencies, panelists said. Thirteen nations have active space programs, and eight are capable of launching their own satellites into orbit.

In the last 10 years, the number of countries with communications satellites or GPS systems in orbit has increased from 27 to 37, according to Ray Williamson, executive director of the Secure World Foundation, a space advocacy organization headquartered in Superior, Colo.

"Countries as diverse as Algeria, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, South Africa and Turkey have now become part of the so-called space club," he said.

Last year, China launched a Venezuelan-owned communications satellite that "enabled Venezuela to extend its influence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean," Williamson said. The satellite broadcasts Venezuela's TeleSUR channel, which Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has styled as the alternative to U.S.-based news broadcasts.

So far, the United States operates the only complete set of global positioning satellites (GPS) in orbit, but Russia will launch the final six satellites to complete its own system next March, according to J.P. Stevens, vice president of the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade organization for the commercial space industry. India and Japan also are building their own GPS systems.

Panelists attributed the relative decline in U.S. space leadership to NASA's fluctuating budgets and repeated changes of direction as administrations and congresses come and go. The end of Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union is also responsible for the loss of interest.

Most subcommittee members support the U.S. space programs because their districts are involved in the aerospace industry.

Stevens contended that space technology is important to America's economic and military capabilities, but the U.S. now holds only 15 percent of the global commercial space market.

"Our leadership is no longer guaranteed," Stevens said "We're being undercut."

The U.S. share of global launch capabilities and communications satellites "dropped off seriously in the last decade," Pace said.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., the subcommittee chairwoman, said other nations have seen the benefits of space exploration, but this country is having doubts.

"At a time when some in the seem to be questioning whether we should sustain a strong commitment to investing in our space program, the rest of the world has not hesitated to embrace the promise that the exploration and utilization of outer space can offer to them," Giffords said.

"We should never ever cede American leadership," said Rep. Pete Olson of Texas, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee.

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Nov 24, 2009
I believe I said something to this effect in response to an earlier article. The comment was quickly deleted, as I suspect this one will be.

Nov 25, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Nov 25, 2009
"We should never ever cede American leadership," said Rep. Pete Olson of Texas, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee. - Well, America can keep its leadership in space by developing the 1KW VASIMR rocket engine. With an engine like this you can get to the moon in 3.9 hours.

Nov 25, 2009
probes, what's your deal? Do you work for the company that builds the VASIMR? Your strange love for the engine has the same catch line in every one of your posts... why not switch it up and recommend a 2KW VASIMR?

More on topic, don't forget that NASA has an annual budget equal to that of the GDP of a small country. We're not shortchanging them TOO much

Nov 25, 2009
... With an engine like this you can get to the moon in 3.9 hours.

Nope. You do not know what you are talking about. Overall transit times are longer with this type of engine, albeit more efficient.

Using a 200 kW VASIMIR the transit time from low earth orbit to low lunar orbit for about 7 metric tons of cargo would be approximately 6 months! And, that, folks, came from information obtained from the manufacturer.

The truth is that we will never be able to hold our place in space because Obama has appointed NASA death panels to kill off missions they feel would be too expensive.

Our current plans for the moon to mars missions are about to be scrapped if these panels have their way.

The key is to allocate more money to NASA and develop radically new technologies and put them to use. There are so many resources out there in space for us to tap as well. We should look for cost effective ways to obtain these.

Nov 25, 2009
Democrats have had control now for three years in the senate and congress, and the Whitehouse for a year. The media lambasted the Republicans for their anti science stand, but with Democrats in control we lose real science and lose our edge in space research.

Nov 25, 2009
"death panels to kill off missions they feel would be too expensive."

Many programs are too expensive but it's not the program or the purpose of the programs that are too expensive its the money hungry industries that grossly overinflated the costs.

Privately funded space program would work wonders if granted the freedom it deserves!

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