"Raw Politics" on "Anderson Cooper 360" delivers the latest political news with a wry sense of a humor and without spin.
Tom Foreman reports from the campaign trail, where space exploration has been put on the backburner.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One issue the presidential candidates are not saying much about is space exploration. But some scientists, military experts and intelligence analysts say the next president may well determine whether America keeps an edge in space.
Last year, the United States managed 16 space launches; Russia had 22; China blasted off 10.
China's exploding economy is paying for the education of hundreds of thousands of engineers each year, they are acquiring less space technology from other nations and developing more of their own, and they appear committed to dominating the heavens.
Their space program is still behind, says Robert Zubring, one of America's strongest proponents for Mars travel, but it is rocketing.
"And we're standing still. If we continue to stand still, by the middle of the next decade, their space program will be superior to ours and they'll be moving on to the moon and Mars, while we're ... looking back on our former greatness," he said. Watch more on the space race »
Just in November, a Chinese robotic spacecraft circled the moon, capturing 3-D images. Chinese scientists talk about mining the lunar surface for possible nuclear energy resources that are plentiful there but rare on Earth.
Mars is a real target for future travel.
And remember when the Chinese shot down that weather satellite? Military experts do. After all, American troop movements, bomb targeting, intelligence, banking and communications systems now rely on eyes in the sky.
"They're making a point, absolutely. ... They were demonstrating a capability not only to themselves but to the rest of the world that they're a power of reckoning in the use ... in the dominance ... of space," retired U.S. Army Gen. David Grange said.
All three major presidential candidates -- Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain -- say space is important, but none is strongly talking about a timeline for the moon or Mars. And certainly, there are other pressing issues: the war and the economy.
But there is genuine and growing fear among some scientists that if space does not become a higher priority, the Chinese program will be on par with America's by the end of the next president's second term. Then, it will be a real race to Mars even if we want to join in. E-mail to a friend
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