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Opening Arguments

Mission to Mars

Kind of hard to maintain American exceptionalism when the people in charge don't even believe in it:

U.S. astronauts won't land on Mars by themselves but with international partners in the 2030s, NASA's chief said Wednesday.

The NASA Curiosity rover's risky landing on the Red Planet is scheduled for 1:31 a.m. ET Monday morning. NASA chief Charles Bolden focused on Mars as the "ultimate destination for now" for human space exploration, in a meeting with the USA TODAY Editorial Board.

"I have no desire to do a Mars landing on our own," Bolden said. "The U.S. cannot always be the leader, but we can be the inspirational leader through international cooperation" in space exploration.

[. . .]

"I believe that most westerners presume that a human mission to Mars will quite likely be multinational. I certainly think so, and indeed would prefer this approach," says former NASA chief Michael Griffin, who has criticized the administration's manned spaceflight plans in the past.

"I do not believe that China makes such a presumption," Griffin adds, by email. "I suspect that when China believes it is ready as a nation to go to the Moon, it will do so, and later on exactly the same thing will be true of Mars." China announced plans on Tuesday to launch its third lunar probe next year, part of an effort aimed at a manned moon landing in the next decade.

That's really the way it is today, isn't it? When China is ready to go, it will go. And when we're ready, why we'll just be the best darned inspiration the world has ever seen. Leading from behind, of course.