Mark Whittington – Rumors that China is considering building a super heavy lift rocket received a boost recently when Liang Xiaohong, vice head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology mentioned to Xinhua that it was being looked into.
The rocket mentioned would have the capacity to lift 130 metric tons to low Earth orbit. That would give the rocket the capability of taking Chinese astronauts to the moon.
Stories that the Chinese were looking into such a rocket, sometimes described to be in the "Saturn V Class," have persisted for years. The stories mesh with the idea that one of China's ultimate goals is to land people on the moon, not just to replicate the decades old feat of the American Apollo program, but with a view of staying to exploit the moon's resources and its position as the natural "high ground" overlooking the Earth.
China has already sent two of its Chang'e probes into lunar orbit. It plans to send landers, one that would return soil and rock samples, later in the current decade. Meanwhile China's Shenzhou manned space flights, both past and planned, seem to be replicating the American Mercury and Gemini programs, which slowly tested space flight techniques, including space walks and rendezvous and docking. So far the Shenzhou program seems aimed to put a small space station in low Earth orbit for long duration missions. But at the same time, China is learning all it needs to learn for a lunar effort, should it decide to do so.
While some analysts have disputed the very notion of a Chinese lunar effort or its relevance if it did exist, others have warned of the profound implications of Chinese on the moon, especially as the American space effort continues to be mired in chaos and uncertainty in the wake of President Barack Obama's cancellation of the American Moon effort.
When America landed men on the Moon, its position as technological leader of the world was secured for decades, a not unimportant fact in the context of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Should China reach the moon while the Americans remain stuck in low Earth orbit, that status will be placed in doubt. People and nations will begin to wonder, will the 21st century be another American century or will it be a Chinese one?
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.

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