NASA boss Michael Griffin expects China's booming space program could launch a manned mission to the moon before the U.S. makes a return to our Moon:
Griffin offered the assessment at a budget hearing before the House Science and Technology Committee. The panel offered bipartisan support for an increase in spending on NASA's Orion moonship, which is falling behind schedule, as well as on unmanned science projects and aeronautical research.
Earlier this month, funding woes pushed the first flight of NASA's Orion back to March 2015, a six-month slide. That prompted a round of questions from Rep Ken Calvert, R-Calif., on whether the United States might lose its lead in space to China.
"How good is their space program? ... Do you think they have an opportunity to get to the moon before we do?" Calvert asked.
Griffin, who toured some of China's space installations last year and met with leading scientists and engineers, told the panel that China, with its strong economy, is capable of a come-from-behind lunar landing.
"I cannot speculate and won't speculate on what China's intensions are. I just don't know that," said Griffin. "As a matter of technical capability and political will, if the Chinese choose to do so, they can mount a lunar mission within a reasonable number of years, say a decade."