Will tomorrows astronauts need to learn Chinese?

On Monday, the Chinese announced another successful docking maneuvers with their own space station, which they launched in October.  They have two spacecraft in orbit right now, and are working on docking them.  They had their first successful dock on Nov 2 and another on Nov. 14.  This is important since they not only need to perfect docking in order to supply and man the station (both ships are unmanned right now), but also to build the station itself.

This is big news, and a potential game changer in the space race.  After all, the ISS was the combined effort of five nations and is only supposed to operate until 2015, although it's been extended to 2020. That doesn't mean the station is falling part, necessarily, but it is getting older; meanwhile, the Chinese have a brand-spanking new one, built on the lessons we've been learning.  Also, while we have to work with upwards of fifteen other nations who all have a stake in what goes on, China is going solo.  That's gotta cut the bureaucracy between wanting to do something and actually doing it.  Of course, that also means that if something fails, they are on their own.

We have a fairly strict policy about sharing technology with China, but there's a move within the Obama Administration to loosen that up.   On the one side are those who say we can get some useful scientific information, including orbital debris telemetry, according to NASA.  (Of course, while having China's help in might be nice, we have agreements with Australia for tracking, but nothing is build yet.  On the third hand, while other nations have tracking radars, we don't use their data, either, even that of our allies.  Why, then, trust China's?)  On the other side is the reminder that China is a Communist nation with a history of human rights violations.  Do we really want to do anything to help that nation continue if we don't have to?

What would happen if we did increase our technological exchange--will we support their station, purposefully or inadvertently?  Will we coax them into a second ISS?  (Must say, sounds like they are pretty proud of going on their own.)

Regardless, low earth orbit looks to get a little more interesting.  It's a big orbit out there, but imagine if their efforts start a new space race?  Will our astronauts need to start learning Chinese?

If so, I'd like to recommend episodes of Firefly as a start. And here's a handy Mandarin phrase guide from the Firefly Wiki.

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Walt said...

Hindi might become an alternate astronaut Rosetta Stone choice if Bangalore gets the hang of cryogenic engines (at the moment, their advanced rockets have the disheartening habit of emulating that other famous local invention, the Bangalore torpedo).

Karina Fabian said...

Actually, they tend to use English. (I had talked to Rob about it for our Rescue Sisters universe.)

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