The United States and China are increasingly competitive in space as both nations plan to put people back on the moon and establish the first moon bases.
NASA, the U.S. space agency, is waiting for a new launch date for its Artemis 1 mission. It is expected this month or next. Technical problems led to cancellations of the first two launch attempts in recent weeks.
China aims to send astronauts to the moon within ten years and establish a robotic research station there.
Both the U.S. and China plan to establish bases for intermittent crews on the moon’s south pole after that.
The efforts come 50 years after U.S. astronauts closed the doors on an Apollo spacecraft and left the moon for Earth in December of 1972. No one has visited the moon since.
A new space race?
Some space policy experts question if the world is seeing another international space race. They note major differences, however, from the earlier space race between Russia and the U.S.
This time, both the U.S. and China see moon programs as part of a larger plan for exploring, settling and possibly using resources offered by the moon, Mars and space at large.
American intelligence, military and political leaders make clear they see strategic challenges to the U.S. in China’s space program.
On the military side, the U.S. and China trade accusations of weaponizing space.
There is also a civilian side to the efforts. The U.S. is concerned that Chinese gains in space exploration and technology will increase that country’s influence around the world.
Aaron Bateman is a professor at George Washington University and a member of the Space Policy Institute.
Bateman suggested that prestige – meaning respect and admiration – plays an important part in space competition.
The moon programs suggest that “space is going to be an arena of competition on the prestige front, demonstrating advanced technical expertise and know-how, and then also on the military front as well,” Bateman said.
A U.S. military-financed study group suggested last month that “China appears to be on track to” go past the U.S. as the lead “space power by 2045.” The groups’ report said China’s space effort was part of a plan to spread authoritarianism and communism on Earth.
In July, Zhao Lijian, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said China’s space program was guided by peaceful ideas. “Some U.S. officials are constantly smearing China’s normal and reasonable outer space undertakings,” Zhao said.
Flying on the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA, Artemis 1 aims for a five-week flight that would put test dummies into lunar orbit.
If all goes well with that, U.S. astronauts could fly around the moon in 2024 and land on it in 2025.
China’s space program is behind that of the United States. But its secretive, military-linked program is developing fast and creating missions that could make Beijing a leader in space flight.
Last year, China deployed a rover vehicle on Mars. The U.S. has several such vehicles on the planet.
China was also the first of nations to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon.
And, Chinese astronauts are close to completing work on a permanent orbiting space station.
A 1967 U.N. space treaty bans anyone from claiming control over a moon or planet, putting a military base on it, or putting weapons of mass destruction into space.
But space competition is not necessarily a bad thing, said American Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Space competition does not have to lead to conflict, he said.
He added, “I think it can be a competition — like the Olympics — that simply means that each team and each side is going to push higher and faster. And as a result, humanity is likely to benefit."
I’m John Russell.
Ellen Knickmeyer reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
intermittent—adj. starting, stopping, and starting again
challenge – n. an attempt to defeat someone in a competition; a difficult task or problem
arena – n. an area of activity, interest, or competition
demonstrate – v. to prove (something) by showing examples of it : to show evidence of (something)
smear – v. to make untrue statements about someone in order to hurt that person's reputation
dummy – n. a copy of a finished object that is used during practice or training
benefit – n. a good or helpful result or effect