Space race 2.0? US’ lunar return gathers urgency, courtesy China


WASHINGTON: It’s not just rocket fuel propelling America’s first moonshot after a half-century lull. Strategic rivalry with China’s space programme is helping drive Nasa’s effort to get back into space in a bigger way, as both nations push to put people back on the moon and establish the first lunar bases.
American intelligence, military and political leaders make clear they see a host of strategic challenges to the US in China’s space programme, in an echo of the US Soviet rivalry that prompted the 1960s’ race to the moon.
The US is wary of China taking the lead in space exploration, and pioneering the technological and scientific advances that would put China ahead in power in space and in prestige on Earth. “In a decade, the US has gone from the unquestioned leader in space to merely one of two peers in a competition,” Senator Jim Inhofe declared this week at a Senate Armed Services hearing. Nasa is awaiting a new launch date this month or in October for its Artemis 1 uncrewed test moonshot. China likewise aims to send astronauts to the moon this decade, as well as establish arobotic research station there. Both the US and China intend to establish bases for intermittent crews on the moon’s south pole after that. Russia has aligned with China’s moon programme.
Some experts bat down talk of a new space race. The US and China see moon programmes as a stepping stone in phased programmes toward exploring, settling and potentially exploiting the resources and other untapped economic and strategic opportunities offered by the moon, Mars and space at large. And in a world where China and
Russia are collaborating to try to surpass the US in space, the US would regret leaving the glory and strategic advantages from developing the moon and space solely to the likes of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Tesla magnate Elon Musk. A Pentagon-commissioned study group contended last month that “China appears to be on track to surpass the US as the dominant space power by 2045”. It called it part of China’s plan to promote authoritarianism and communism on Earth.





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