By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 16, 2007
The next humans to walk on the moon may well be Chinese, NASA's administrator told Congress yesterday. He said that the combination of budget cuts and restraints in the NASA lunar program and a determined and well-funded effort by the Chinese made that once-unthinkable possibility a real one.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told the House Committee on Science and Technology that, based on the status of the Chinese space program and its projected growth, China could land a man on the moon within a decade. Under current projections, a U.S. lunar return would not take place until 2019 at the earliest.
"If they wanted to mount a lunar mission, they could do so," Griffin said. "And yes, they could get to the moon before we return."
The Chinese space program employs about 200,000 people, Griffin said, while NASA has a workforce of about 75,000.
Griffin's assessment came during a day of NASA budget hearings in which both Republicans and Democrats decried a lack of funding for NASA, which has been given many ambitious missions.
In addition to undertaking President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration to take Americans back to the moon and beyond, NASA is tasked with such popular and costly projects as sending shuttles to the international space station until it is completed in 2010, and then helping operate it.
In House and Senate hearings, lawmakers described the distance between NASA's missions and its budget as a "train wreck," as a possible precursor to safety problems, and as a pulling back from the U.S. commitment to remain the leading spacefaring nation.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for NASA, called yesterday for a bipartisan, House-Senate NASA summit at the White House, similar to one held by President George H.W. Bush in 1989.