Jan 10, 2023 at 11:56Update: 13 minutes ago
China and the United States are in a race to space. Both countries want to put people on the moon again. Why do the great powers find it so important to be first?
“It’s a fact: we are in a space race,” Bill Nelson, head of the US space agency NASA, said last week. He warned that China may have ambitions to claim areas on the moon for mineral extraction and to exclude the US.
Rob van den Berg, a space expert at the Sonnenborgh observatory in Utrecht, calls this “a well-founded fear”. He emphasizes that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty states that the moon belongs to no one. “But if China does claim territory on the moon, no one can stop them. There is no space force or police that can intervene. The question is how much this would escalate between the two countries.”
Although it is the first time that the US has expressed such fear, the battle between the two countries has been going on for much longer. “It all started when the US shut China out of the International Space Station. Then it moved on to signing the Artemis Accords,” says space expert Nancy Vermeulen.
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China excluded from lunar agreements
Those accords were signed in 2020 by eight countries, including the US. They must ensure a coordinated approach to lunar exploration. More than twenty countries have now signed it. But China is missing.
China has therefore started developing its own space program, which has made rapid progress in recent years. In November, China opened its own space station. The country has also landed on the moon several times and sent a robotic spacecraft with a camera to Mars. By the end of this decade, Beijing wants to put taikonauts, or spacemen from China, on the moon.
The US wants to put humans back on the moon by the end of 2025, for the first time since 1972. But the slightest delay in new technology development could mean China is sooner. In November, NASA succeeded in sending the new American spacecraft Orion unmanned around the moon. That spacecraft must later carry out the manned mission.
Being the first brings benefits
Both countries want to be the first to return to the moon. “China wants to show that it is the superpower of the world. The US does not want to give up its position. Being the first back on the moon brings money and prestige. It also automatically brings economic benefits,” says Vermeulen.
Van den Berg: “China not only wants to become the largest world power in the economic and military field, but also in space.”
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