Overdrive Extra

Jack Roberts

China, the moon and you

| December 26, 2013

ku-xlargeSomething pretty amazing happened right before the Holiday break: China soft-landed its Jade Rabbit rover on the Moon. And it was interesting (or perhaps telling) that this tremendous feat of technology received scant attention here in the U.S.

The Chinese have publically stated they plan to land men on the moon in the next 10 years or so. And the Jade Rabbit landing earlier this month is a huge step toward that goal.

Landing men on the moon isn’t easy. Just ask the Russians. And of course we’ve already been there. Neil Armstrong became the first human to ever walk on another world way back in 1969. And, after decades of a thrilling science fiction diet in popular culture, from Flash Gordon to Mr. Spock and Luke Skywalker, the Moon turned out to be a pretty dull destination after all that time, work and money. So it’s understandable that Americans, if they noticed the Jade Rabbit at all, collectively shrugged their shoulders and went back to punching somebody out in order to finally score that Black Friday X-Box their kid has been driving them up the wall over.

That’s too bad. Because if history is any indication, the Chinese space program will likely have massive economic and technological consequences for the United States.

Right now, most Americans have a vague sense Chinese economic power is growing. But it’s hard to take that threat seriously because Chinese products commonly sold here today tend to be cheap crap at Big Box stores. We’re not awash in high-tech Chinese products. The Japanese still own that corner of the economy. But the Chinese stuff is coming.

Consider for a moment all the common, every-day items you use that were developed directly, or in-directly in conjunction with the Apollo Program:

  • LED Lights
  • Velcro
  • Personal Computers
  • On-board electronic control modules
  • Computer mouse
  • MRI and CAT scans
  • Freeze-dried foods
  • Cell phone cameras
  • Solar panels
  • Cordless tools

And that’s just to name a few things.

Furthermore, consider that NASA developed all these things in the 1960s, without the benefit of modern computing power. They did everything with slide rules and graph paper. So there’s no telling what kinds of break-through technologies and innovations are likely to emerge from a Chinese space program.

It’s hard right now to see what all this will mean for trucking. Currently, the state of the Chinese trucking industry is about 50 years behind the West. So it will probably be a long time before we see any Class 8 Chinese truck models here. A much more likely scenario, in my opinion, is that the Chinese will first make a run at the medium-duty cabover market currently dominated by the Japanese. But we could be seeing a short-term explosion of Chinese after-market technologies for big rigs coming our way: Things like tires, onboard electronics and safety systems as well as vastly-improved aftermarket parts.

The Jade Rabbit ought to serve as a wake-up call to Americans: The Chinese really are coming. So it’s time now to stop squabbling and put our economic affairs in order before it’s too late. I wonder if anybody is listening.

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