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Chinese in Space
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Well, their machines have been up there for a while, but in the past 24 hours, they've put a living, breathing human being up in orbit.

Yang Liwei, 38, was blasted into space aboard the Shenzhou V spacecraft at 9:00 a.m. local time (0100 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch site in China's western Gobi Desert.

Back in January I blogged on the Chinese space program, and I noted that a lot of experts, including many at NASA, were skeptical about Chinese boasts that they would put a man into space so soon. Guess they were wrong.

Of course, there was a lot of secrecy and little or no direct international media coverage. (I wonder how many conspiracy theorists China has, with websites pointing out that the launch was a hoax...?)

Anyway, I also had a few things to say about vision, not as individuals, but collectively as cultures. If you read any Ayn Rand, she'll tell you that groups never accomplish anything, that all innovation is brought about by individuals working for their own selfish reasons. And I'll never forget a critique from Bruce Sterling in which he railed that the American space program was all about military domination, that it was all ulterior motive, and that it had nothing to do with the impulse for discovery.

I think both these views are pure hogwash. I think I said it pretty well back in January, so I'll engage in a little solipsism and quote myself:

And why should you care [about the Chinese Space Program]?

Because in this case the Chinese have it right. They're looking forward, overreaching perhaps, but that bold optimism cannot be underestimated as a powerful cultural force.

Many people complained about the expense of the U.S. space program, but who can truly downplay the incredible impact of seeing the first human being set foot on the surface of the moon. It isn't about simple's about vision, something America has been sorely lacking over the past few decades.

Countries that set goals beyond their current capabilities, governments that have a vision that captures the imagination not only of their own people, but of the entire world, those are places that truly shape human thought and elevate the human condition.

The Chinese, for all their faults, get this. If we don't, then we will begin to lag and atrophy. If we don't reach, as a nation, for anything more than our next Quarter Pounder, we will stagnate in our own insular decadence.

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