China plans to put a taikonaut into space soon. Nothing would stimulate the US space effort more than a Chinese claim to the Sea of Tranquility.
There's nothing like space exploration to turn even the hardest-headed Americans into soppy romantics. They trace back the supposedly American traits of self-reliance and risk-taking to the open frontier, the thesis of Frederick Jackson Turner, back in 1893. Recent generations grew up on John F Kennedy's New Frontier programme to put a man on the moon; on Star Trek, which sent Hollywood actors to the final frontier of outer space; and on a new wave of realistic science fiction, such as Kim Stanley Robinson's epic of the terraforming of Mars.
And that is the problem. The romantic attachment to space exploration is an American phenomenon. It has sustained vast government spending for no economic return. But it is the dreaminess of the space lobby that has left the programme in its current shambles.