Space race: NASA chief warns that China could claim territory on the Moon

There is growing concern over China's Moon ambitions.
Ayesha Gulzar
Roll out of Shenzhou 13.
Roll out of Shenzhou 13.

Wikimedia Commons 

The race to the Moon between the United States and China is becoming increasingly fierce, and the next two years could determine who wins.

During an interview with Politico, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson warned that if China were to win the space race, it may establish territory on the Moon and dominate the areas rich in minerals and other resources or even block other countries from making a lunar journey.

"It is a fact: we're in a space race. And it is true that we better watch out that they don't get to a place on the Moon under the guise of scientific research. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, 'Keep out, we're here, this is our territory,'" said Bill Nelson.

To explain their concerns, NASA officials pointed to the islands in the South China Sea, where the Chinese military has established bases. "If you doubt that, look at what they did to the Spratly Islands," the NASA chief added.

A new space race

NASA and China's space programs are working hard to reach the Moon in the next few years and have spent recent months doing just that.

In the last few years alone, China has launched orbiters, landers, and rovers that have reached the Moon and Mars. To further the concerns, officials believe that the China National Space Administration is making progress too quickly. There is a real chance that it could beat NASA's optimistic goals set in the current Artemis project.

"China, within the last decade, has had enormous success and advances," said Nelson. "It is also true that their date for landing on the Moon keeps getting closer and closer."

China's space program has recently launched a new space station. Beijing has stated that it hopes to land its astronauts on the Moon by the end of this decade.

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Meanwhile, NASA has been working on its Artemis series of missions to the Moon. NASA launched Artemis I in November for a 26-day mission.

The mission was successful after an Orion capsule orbited the Moon, bringing the space agency one step closer to its objective of establishing a human presence on the Moon. NASA is planning to land astronauts on the Moon by 2025.

China can make political mischief on the Moon

Aside from claiming the Moon, security experts fear that China may also be aiming to interfere with U.S. space systems. And it would give the country a dangerous political gain.

"On one level, it is a political competition to show whose system works better," said Terry Virts, the former commander of the International Space Station. "What they really want is respect as the world's top country. They want to be the dominant power on Earth, so going to the Moon is a way to show their system is working. If they beat us back to the Moon, it shows they are better than us."

Chinese investment in spaceflight and other rocket technology comes amid an ongoing arms race with the U.S. and Russia, as all three countries are currently developing hypersonic weapons.