Friday, November 20, 2009

U.S. losing space lead, experts warn Congress

Robert S. Boyd

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 Space 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.

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