China could beat the US in a new space race and colonize the moon, NASA chief warns

NASA Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) rocket launches November at Kennedy Space Center - Kevin Dietsch

NASA Artemis I Space Launch System (SLS) rocket launches November at Kennedy Space Center – Kevin Dietsch

China could beat the US in a new space race and lay claim to the moon’s vast expanses, a NASA chief has warned.

Bill Nelson, a former U.S. senator and space shuttle astronaut, said the competition to determine the presence of the Moon is getting fiercer and could be of long-term strategic importance.

“It’s a fact: we’re in a space race,” he told Politico. “And it’s true that we’d better be careful they don’t get to the moon under the guise of scientific research.

“It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for them to say, ‘Stay away, we’re here, this is our territory,'” he said.

Beijing’s interest in space has grown in recent years.

Late last year, China opened its own space station, launching the Shenzhou mission from the Gobi Desert.

Three “taikonauts” – the Chinese term for astronauts – replaced the crew that helped build the orbital laboratory, cementing Beijing’s position as a major player in space exploration.

Tensions in space may mirror those on Earth

While the US and Russia have agreed to work together on the international space station, the Chinese want to do it themselves.

Nelson fears that tensions in space could mirror those on Earth, such as in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s military has set up bases on disputed islands.

According to NASA, the aggressive nature of China’s space program caused concern in Washington, especially in May 2021, when parts of China’s largest rocket crashed into the Indian Ocean in defiance of internationally agreed safety standards.

In 2021, Chinese lunar engineer Ye Peijian said it was “entirely possible” that the country could have “boots on the moon” by the end of the decade.

Just before Christmas, Wu Yansheng, chairman of China Aerospace Science and Technology, outlined the country’s ambitions to establish Beijing.

The program is part of a strategy to “achieve a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049.

The American Artemis mission is years behind schedule

Back in 2014, the US announced plans to land a robot on the moon for the first time in four decades.

But the US Artemis mission, which aims to put humans on the moon by 2025, is running into difficulties and has been delayed for many years.

However, it completed its 1.4 millionth mission to the moon and back last month, and the Orion spacecraft returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last month.

The Pentagon’s latest report to Congress identifies China as “the only competitor with the intent, and increasingly the ability, to transform the international order.”

Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astrophysicist, remained skeptical.

“It’s possible,” he told The Telegraph. “This is not an urgent priority for China and there is currently no Chinese program to develop human flights on the moon, but it will be a natural development for their government space exploration programs.

“China doesn’t see it as a race, but the pace of the US effort is glacial enough that indeed China may tackle it first.

Dr Mcdowell said Mr Nelson’s comments “basically were fear mongering to build political support” for NASA’s budget.

“Yes, China may already be back on the moon by the time we get there, but the important thing is not who will be first in a year or two, but who will be there in the long term – that’s what the focus should be, and it’s not.” .

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