China’s Killing It Lately

Take note, if you want to “Make America Great Again” – China’s been killing it lately in science and technology.

This week a Chinese satellite shattered the record for quantum entanglement, by entangling photons between the ground and a satellite 500km above the Earth with a total distance of 1200km. This is Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance,” where two particles can be “entangled” in such a way that the state of one particle will instantly affect a measurement of the second particle’s state, no matter how far apart they are in space. There are practical limitations that prevent this from being used for faster-than-light communication, but it does provide a means for a perfect encryption scheme for secure communications over large distances. By demonstrating this in space, China has opened up the eventual possibility of a global, perfectly secure Internet of their own. Applying this system to encryption is in fact their next step, followed by experiments in long-distance quantum teleportation.

China also launched their own space-based X-Ray telescope this week. It will search the Universe for black holes and neutron stars, aiding our understanding of these strange objects. Here’s the kicker – this X-Ray observatory satellite is just the last in a series of four science missions launched by China over the past 18 months. It was built together with a dark matter probe, some microgravity experiments, and the quantum entanglement satellite described above.

China is also gearing up to build a world-class terrestrial telescope of their own, a 12-meter optical and infrared telescope slated to go online in the 2020’s. And you may have heard that following a successful robotic moon landing last year and deployment of their own robotic Lunar rover, China is now planning to land humans on the Moon by 2036.

Meanwhile, although NASA likes to talk about going to Mars, they have no mandate at all from our Congress to go anywhere – nor any concrete plans to do so. They’re sort of working in that direction just because nobody’s told them to do anything different. Meanwhile, private companies such as SpaceX and other countries such as the UAE are unveiling their own Mars plans.

So, if you’re worried about America losing its “greatness” as a world leader in science and technology – you should be. And you should ask yourself if the policies and budgets Americans are supporting are consistent with changing this trend. They’re not – and countries like China are seizing on the opportunity. Why not use this increased competition as an opportunity in itself? Given a mandate and sufficient funding, NASA could partner with its private-sector partners (including SpaceX) to do something truly grand, inspiring, and – dare I say it – great.

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