Space race: US fears that China will seize all the valuable resources on the moon
The United States may win the race for leadership on the moon against China. But there is no time to waste, as China's progress in space technology is staggering, according to Politico.
The race to the moon between the United States and China is getting tighter and the next two years could determine who wins.
So says NASA administrator Bill Nelson, who warns that Beijing could gain a foothold and try to dominate the most resource-rich places on the lunar surface — or even keep the US out.
“It's a fact: we're in a space race, the former Florida senator and astronaut said in an interview. – And we'd better make sure they don't end up on the Moon somewhere under the guise of scientific research. And it is possible that they will say: “Stay away, we are here, this is our territory.”
He cited the situation in the South China Sea, where the Chinese military has established bases on disputed islands. “If you doubt it, look what they did to the Spratly Islands”, – he said.
Nelson's comments follow NASA's 26-day Artemis I mission, which saw the uncrewed Orion space capsule circle the moon. This mission was considered a success. It was the first big step towards NASA's plan to land astronauts on the Moon's surface to begin creating a more permanent human presence. This could happen as early as 2025.
It also follows the passage of NASA's annual budget by Congress. The agency did not receive all of the funding it requested, but Nelson insisted that “the necessary funds” had been made available. This includes key components for the next two lunar missions, Artemis II and Artemis III.
But China's aggressive space program, including the recent opening of a new space station, is getting bigger. Beijing has announced its goal of landing taikonauts (an astronaut working in China's space program) on the Moon by the end of this decade. In December, the Chinese government laid out its vision for more ambitious projects, such as building infrastructure in space and building a space management system.
Any significant delays or disruptions in the US program, which relies on a number of new systems and equipment that are still under development, may lead to a lag behind China. And NASA's moon landing schedule has already been pushed back by a year with the Trump administration.
Over the past few years, Beijing has launched a series of robotic landers and rovers to collect lunar samples, including the first time on the far side of the Moon, as well as an orbiter, lander and rover that have reached Mars.
The US military is also expressing growing concern over Beijing's development of space systems that could threaten US satellites. The military is sounding the alarm about the security implications of Beijing's deep space forays.
“It's possible they can catch up and outdo us,” Space Force Lieutenant General Nina Armagno said last month during a visit to Australia when China launched its 10th crew to the Shenzhou space station. – The progress they have made has been staggering – staggeringly fast.”
A recent Pentagon report to Congress noted a number of recent leaps in the Chinese space program.
It mentions China's pioneering ability not only to land on the far side of the Moon, but also to establish a communications relay using a satellite that was launched a year earlier between the Earth and the Moon.
The report also says that China is improving its capabilities to manufacture space launch systems for human exploration of deeper space.
Some NASA veterans are also watching with growing concern.
Terry Wirths, former commander of the International Space Station and Space Shuttle “Shuttle” and a retired Air Force colonel, said the competition includes political and security components.
“On the one hand, this is a political competition to show whose system works best,” he said in an interview. – What they really want is respect. They want to be the dominant force on earth, so going to the moon is a way to show that their system works. If they dominate the Moon, it will show that they are better than us.”
But there are also practical threats that a Chinese foothold on the Moon could pose, he added.
“China could potentially harm the moon, Wirths said. – If they create infrastructure there, they could potentially, for example, ban communications. Having them doesn't make things easier. The Chinese intervention is a real concern.”
The Chinese Communist government says such concerns about its motives are unfounded.
“Some U.S. officials are irresponsibly misrepresenting China's normal and legitimate space efforts,” Liu Penyu, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said in a statement. – China strongly rejects such remarks.”
“Outer space is not a battlefield,” he added. – The exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes is the common cause of mankind and should be of benefit to all. China has always stood for the peaceful use of outer space, opposes the arms race in outer space, and is actively working to build a community with a common destiny for mankind in space.”
Nelson expressed confidence that the US efforts to return to the moon are the first to go on schedule, noting Congressional funding for the Artemis program. This week, Congress approved $24.5 billion for NASA for fiscal year 2023, about half a billion dollars less than what President Joe Biden requested.
But that still means more than a 5 percent increase from this year.
Nelson expressed confidence that the next mission to the moon, Artemis II, could take place “within two years”, and “hopefully we can speed it up.” This mission plan is to send a crew to orbit the Moon by 2024.
But he said the space agency is under a lot of pressure because it has been forced to reuse all the avionics inside the Artemis I capsule for Artemis II to save money.
Because no fully equipped spacecraft has been developed for Artemis II , NASA had to remove all of its space systems from the capsule that had just returned and reinstall them on another ship. “It costs us time,” Nelson said. The goal is still to have the Artemis II up and running by the end of 2024, he said, but “they're telling me they can't speed it up, that they need time to remake them and get recertified and all that.”
Next comes Artemis III's goal of landing astronauts on the moon by the end of 2025, already a year behind the Trump administration's plan.
“It's all going to depend on two things,” Nelson said. – The readiness of space suits and the readiness of SpaceX. And every day I ask the question: “How is SpaceX doing?” And all our managers tell me that they achieved all their goals.”
But he is clearly concerned that China is also gaining strength and eyeing the same sites for its moon landings.
“China has made tremendous strides and achievements over the past decade,” he said. – It is also true that the date of their landing on the moon is getting closer and closer.
“And there are so many places on the south pole of the moon that are suitable for what we are planning at the moment, to collect water and so on,” he said.
When asked if American astronauts would return to the Moon before China arrived, Nelson replied: “That’s God’s will.”
However, not everyone is convinced that Washington and Beijing are heading towards a conflict on the moon.
“I doubt it,” said Victoria Samson, Washington director of the Safe World Foundation, which focuses on the peaceful uses of outer space. .
She noted that China, like the United States, is a party to the Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits countries from making territorial claims to any celestial body, including the Moon.
According to her, any it will also be difficult for the country to sustain a long-term human presence in deep space. “It seems unrealistic. It will be very difficult”, – she said.
But she agreed that there could be competition between Washington and Beijing for “limited landing sites and resources” on the lunar surface.
“This is where we made the argument that interact with China,” Samson said. “Because of the possibility of landing next to each other or the need to provide emergency services to astronauts or taikonauts.”