Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Chinese abacus on the moon

By John Coulter (China Daily) Updated: 2013-12-16 07:23

If you have seen Chang'e-3 land on the moon and its very smart-looking six-wheeled rover, Yutu (or Jade Rabbit), being lowered to the moon's surface, think for a second. From "made in China" to "an export of China", the world has changed, accelerating into new situations and joltingly amended viewpoints.

Just two-to-three centuries ago European nations (some in the financial negative territory news now) were racing to colonize and mine/farm the rest of the world in exchange for trinkets. The goal was God, glory, guns and gold. On a remote island continent, Australia, they planted their flag in 1788, and called it "ours". Later, in Antarctica, and on Mount Qomolangma and the moon, planting the flag did not have the same significance.

Indeed, what was the significance of the United States' moon landing? When former US president John F. Kennedy grandly announced, in 1963, that the US had the technology to achieve a moon landing "this decade", he inspired his country and people. And they did it.

So what's the fuss about a moon landing 40 years later? And now that a made-in-China rover is on the moon what is the world coming to?

Comments on Yahoo a day after the launch of Chang'e-3 totaled 1,036. They mainly lamented the budget cuts for NASA, initiated by former US president George W. Bush and later by President Barack Obama, and said China's advance was a wake-up call. Many comments exhibited ignorance, postulating that China would steal the US flag planted on the moon in 1969, or that the first car crash on the moon (international incident) was in sight. Vehicle maneuvering on the moon is limited to a few kilometers, and the American and Chinese sites are "moondays" away.

The French daily, Le Monde, has addressed China's advances in space more matter-of-factly. It says the "astromobile" is the first object on the moon since the Russian lunar probe in 1970s. Le Monde praises China's achievement and refers to other countries that have tried the moon, the former Soviet Union, Japan, India but fails to mention the US.

The Apollo missions were unarguably gallant. Kennedy and Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, are heroes of mankind for their aspirations and accomplishments. The computational power of the 1969 Apollo mission was less than a laptop.

In contrast, China's rover is four decades of IT advances better. The rover does not need to risk human astronauts, and robotics can sample and survey better and more precisely than the human hand.

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