In June 2010 NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr., a retired Marine Corps major general, told Al Jazeera that one of his goals was “to reach out to and engage the Muslim world, making better known its historic contribution to science.”
Bolden now says it will take some motivation, perhaps from a not-so-friendly rival, for NASA to again be in a position to reach its goals.
Speaking to a group of midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Institute’s annual history conference in Annapolis, Md. on Saturday, Bolden speculated that if China were to make advances in space exploration, the United States might seek to follow suit. And based on that assumption, he said he was rooting for the rival nation on the other side of the Pacific.
“We haven’t talked about the Chinese,” Bolden said. “We can’t work with the Chinese right now. But I’m rooting for them. They’re probably going to put a spacecraft called Shenzhou into orbit here, hopefully by the end of the year. It’s going to be the first capsule of their space station. And the reason they are doing that is that we are not allowing them to be partners right now. So they’re going alone. They need to be successful to drive us.”
Bolden, the pilot of two space shuttle missions and the commander of two other space shuttle missions, predicted if the Chinese mission is successful, we should expect further moves by the Chinese next year. He also said that the United States doesn’t dominate space exploration like it once did and that the fact should be acknowledged.
Bolden isn’t alone in hoping that China might motivate the United States to act on space exploration. Retired Navy Capt. Wendy B. Lawrence, who was a crew member on six shuttle flights, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I think we’re in a very interesting period right now as [Charles] Bolden has alluded to,” she said. “If you look at the history of the space program, history very clearly shows what we can do when we are united. What will it take to get us united again? I have to agree with Charlie – it’s time to root for the Chinese because it just may be that we need a good swift kick in the pants.”