For the first time in 50 years, NASA is about to launch a rocket designed to carry astronauts to the moon. But instead of leaving only flags and footprints behind in a mad rush to beat the Soviet Union, NASA has a new rival and new goals as it races to establish a permanent human presence on the moon. .
“There is a new space race – this time with China,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told German newspaper Bild in July. “We must be very worried that China will land on the moon and say, ‘It’s up to us now and you stay out.
The United States and China are leading dueling efforts to build bases on the moon’s ice-rich south pole in the 2030s. China last year announced plans to build an “international lunar research station ” with Russia, while more than 20 countries have joined the American Artemis program to explore the moon.
“It’s not just our machines or our people that we send into space. It’s our values. It’s who we are. It’s things like the rule of law, democracy, human rights. man and a free market economy,” Scott Pace, director of the George Washington University Space Policy Institute, told CNN. “I see Artemis and our human expansion into space as a projection of our American values. It’s about diplomatically shaping this new realm on which we depend.”
China insists its lunar efforts are purely for scientific and peaceful purposes, and Beijing took issue when Nelson accused its civilian space agency of being a “military space program”.
“This is not the first time that the head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States has ignored the facts and spoken irresponsibly about China,” Zhao Lijian said in July. spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The US side has consistently built a smear campaign against China’s normal and reasonable space efforts, and China firmly opposes such irresponsible remarks.”
U.S. Representative Robert Aderholt, a Republican from Alabama, agrees with the NASA administrator, who previously served in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, that the United States is in a second presidential race. space, even saying in July that “today’s space race has a lot more on the line.”
From a military perspective, the moon could become the ultimate climax of a potential future conflict in space due to its location. It could also serve as a critical starting point for future crewed missions to Mars, with water and ice collected at the lunar south pole containing the elements – hydrogen and oxygen – needed to create the propellant for rocket.
But Pace, who served as executive secretary of the National Space Council in the Trump administration, describes the rivalry as a “strategic competition” different from the space race of the 1960s and even sees the potential for “lower levels of mutually beneficial cooperation” on the moon.
“It’s not a rough race to plant a flag,” Pace said. “The 1967 Outer Space Treaty states that space is the province of all mankind. China has the right to explore and use space. I just don’t want that they are there without us.” (China, the Russian Federation and the United States are all signatories to the treaty.)
The Artemis program’s first Space Launch System (SLS) test flight is scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center on Monday, August 29. If the 42-day uncrewed mission around the moon and back is successful, it will keep NASA on track to meet its goal of returning American astronauts to the moon by 2025.
China is aiming for 2030 to land its astronauts, called Taikonauts, on the Moon. China’s senior lunar program designer and engineer Ye Peijian told China’s state broadcaster CCTV in November: “I personally think that as long as the technology research for crewed moon landings continues, as long as the country is determined, a Chinese crewed moon landing is quite possible. by 2030,” according to SpaceNews.
With NASA’s moon rocket already on the launch pad and China still in development, the United States has the early advantage. But former NASA associate administrator Doug Loverro says the question of which country will win this second space race depends on the ultimate target.
“If the goal is to land on the moon and come back, clearly the United States is going to beat China. There’s no question about that,” Loverro told CNN. “But if the target lands the first humans on Mars, the answer is much less certain.”
It is also unclear which coalition has the advantage when it comes to building the first base on the moon. China’s lunar ambitions are not constrained by administration changes and congressional budget priorities.
“Our ability to build a base on the moon is severely limited by how we use financial resources to get to the moon,” Loverro said.
The first three flights of NASA’s SLS rocket will cost $4.1 billion each, according to NASA’s inspector general, who told the US Congress in March that the price was “unsustainable”.
Unlike Elon Musk’s SpaceX which is developing a fully reusable moon rocket called Starship, NASA’s SLS rocket is fully expendable, meaning it can only be used once. The ability to reuse rockets dramatically reduces the cost per launch, and China plans to develop a fully reusable heavy rocket for future projects on the Moon and beyond, according to SpaceNews.
“The real race is who will be the first nation on Mars,” Loverro said. “Just as 20th century leadership was framed by who was first on the moon, I believe 21st century leadership will be framed by who is first on Mars.”
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