The National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) was the mainland’s only observation station involved in NASA’s Deep Impact program, which successfully collided a space probe into the comet Tempel 1 yesterday.
“We are always deeply affected when we see foreign scientists doing the most sophisticated space projects,” said senior NAOC researcher Zhou Xu, adding that at the moment “we can only contribute a small part of investigations for international projects.”
Zhou said enthusiasm among wider US society helped American scientists make progress in new areas. He said scientists there explain to people “why they want to do research and what kind of benefit the public get from it. If they cannot get public support, they don’t get funding.”
He compared this favorably to the situation in China, where he said researchers only need the approval of authorities to receive funds and where short-term gains can outweigh long-term benefits.
According to Zhou, US scientists can take a comparatively long time, maybe five to ten years, to research big projects.
Pang Zhihao, a China Space Technology Institute researcher, said the US is spending more efficiently on research that has clearer gains for people; the Deep Impact program was budgeted to spend US$300 million, less than previous projects.
The US hopes to lower the risk of failure and link scientific research with public perceptions of benefit, said Pang. In order to garner support for Deep Impact, scientists highlighted the protection of the earth, and involved 620,000 people in getting signatures onto a CD carried by the probe.
Pan Houren, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Center for Space Science and Applied Research, said each big research project in the US is coupled with a special fund to promote scientific knowledge to the public.
“Many important scientific experiments have been broadcast live, not only showing technical capability, but also increasing people’s enthusiasm for and confidence in science,” said Pan.
“In China, the public usually has no idea what our scientists are doing, and limited funding for the promotion of science weakens people’s enthusiasm for research, especially for teens,” he added.
Zhou said the Deep Impact program advanced and promoted a number of fields, including space exploration and national defense, proving an ability to attack a target in space.
Pan said the results from different research programs should benefit each other. “Chinese rocket technology is more advanced than satellite technology, which in turn is more advanced than everyday applications.”
He said different areas of study should be interconnected so that advanced research can provide gains for practical applications.
(China.org.cn July 5, 2005)