If you can't beat them, steal their game.
This seems to be what NASA Administrator Bill Nelson thinks about China's space program, since he broke the ice during a low-key House Appropriations Committee hearing by telling the world how he really feels about the growing competition in space ventures between the U.S. and China.
"Yes, they are pretty good at stealing," declared Nelson according to an initial tweet quoting him from Space Policy Reporter Marcia Smith. But to Nelson, the solution should emphasize higher cybersecurity measures in the private sector, rather than greater innovation from NASA.
"We need to take cybersecurity very seriously in govt (sic) and private sector," continued the tweet that quoted Nelson, from Smith.
NASA's Bill Nelson says China's space program is unoriginal
While the hearing was in session, Alabama's representative Robert Aderholt asked Nelson how the space agency could "secure American research and development," since the "jarring similarities" between China's and the United States' rocket vehicle designs were hard to ignore.
Nelson seemed to laugh at this, and when asked why, he said Rep. Aderholt articulated the situation far more "delicately" and "eloquently" than Nelson thought he could, in light of his suspicions.
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That's when Nelson attributed the ostensible similarities between both nations' rocket technology to "stealing". But this isn't the first time Nelson has expressed his perception of the international situation in light of the new space race player.
To him, Nelson has been "shouting this message to the rooftops (sic) not only with regard to the government but private sector as well," adding that "the private sector is finally getting the message."
As the conversation progressed, Nelson said NASA had already said that the U.S. and China were in a hot "space race" that is functionally much like the last one — between the now-defunct USSR and the United States.
A new Artemis I launch date?
Notably, Nelson also stressed that NASA's long-delayed Artemis lunar mission would lift off sometime around August of this year. This is understandably big if true, since the agency has already declared it wouldn't put an official launch date on the forthcoming program until it had completed the "wet dress rehearsal," which is still on for this summer.
One shouldn't read too much into Nelson's declarations under pressure — especially regarding the Artemis timeline, since the launch of Artemis I was delayed once more in April. This announcement came in the wake of new plans to roll the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket back into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) "due to upgrades required at an off-site supplier of gaseous nitrogen used for the test," read a statement from NASA.
But whether NASA gets its schedule together after Starship's advanced design had agency officials "sh**ting the bed", China's space program is making great strides. For example, China made a perfectly successful launch of its Long March 6 on March 30, 2022, lifting two satellites into orbit. It even has a rapidly growing space station, called Tiangong-1. But with a continuing trend of mild indifference to potentially catastrophic rocket falls leaving trails of debris strewn across the world, NASA will probably continue to keep its lead, at least in public relations.
This was developing news about the NASA Chief's understanding of the emerging space race with China and was regularly updated as new information became available.