China plans to launch 15 rockets, 17 satellites and a crewed spaceship during 2008. But that's not going to be enough to scare the United States into launching a new space race. And the U.S. really, really needs a new space race to get us to take space exploration seriously again.

China's ramped-up space plans (and its airbrushed moon porn) are definitely making the U.S. twitchy. The U.S. government refused to help with the launch of China's Chang'e lunar orbiter.) But the U.S. has mostly been laid-back, and a little condescending. Like this L.A. Times article that says "There's Room For China In Space." Really? No way. (Here's another one.) Even the fact that Russia, Western Europe and Japan have all launched their own robot probes isn't freaking Americans out yet.

So let's hope China steps up its game, without doing anything too evil, like when China blew up a satellite and doubled the size of the debris field orbiting Earth. But a Chinese astronaut on Mars would be just the thing we need to jolt us out of our complacency.

Who knows when the U.S. would have put a dude on the moon if Russia hadn't put a dog in space back in 1957? The U.S. government is pretty stingy when it comes to science funding, but there's always money for war and coping with outside threats. Space funding dropped sharply in the 1990s, and now we're retiring our space shuttle fleet. The only recent increase in space funding was $300 million for defending U.S. satellites after China destroyed that weather satellite. It sucks that we need an outside competitor to make us take space exploration seriously again.But on the other hand, a little more competition could be healthy for everyone. Images by AP.