Will China’s Moon Landing Launch a New Space Race?

Even if China’s rise heralds a new space race, not all consequences will be negative, writes Wendy Whitman Cobb.

File 20190103 32130 hjdxab.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What will China discover on the far side of the moon? (BeeBright/Shutterstock.com)

By Wendy Whitman Cobb, Cameron University
The Conversation

China became the third country to land a probe on the Moon on Jan. 2. But, more importantly, it became the first to do so on the far side of the moon, often called the dark side. The ability to land on the far side of the moon is a technical achievement in its own right, one that neither Russia nor the United States has pursued.

The probe, Chang’e 4, is symbolic of the growth of the Chinese space program and the capabilities it has amassed, significant for China and for relations among the great power across the world. The consequences extend to the United States as the Trump administration considers global competition in space as well as the future of space exploration.

One of the major drivers of U.S. space policy historically has been competition with Russia particularly in the context of the Cold War. If China’s successes continue to accumulate, could the United States find itself engaged in a new space race?

China’s Achievements

Like the U.S. and Russia, the People’s Republic of China first engaged in space activities during the development of ballistic missiles in the 1950s. While they did benefit from some assistance from the Soviet Union, China developed its space program largely on its own. Far from smooth sailing, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution disrupted this early programs.

The Chinese launched their first satellite in 1970. Following this, an early human spaceflight program was put on hold to focus on commercial satellite applications. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping articulated China’s space policy noting that, as a developing country, China would not take part in a space race. Instead, China’s space efforts have focused on both launch vehicles and satellites – including communications, remote sensing and meteorology.

This does not mean the Chinese were not concerned about the global power space efforts can generate. In 1992, they concluded that having a space station would be a major sign and source of prestige in the 21st century. As such, a human spaceflight program was re-established leading to the development of the Shenzhou spacecraft. The first Chinese astronaut, or taikonaut, Yang Liwei, was launched in 2003. In total, six Shenzhou missions have carried 12 taikonauts into low earth orbit, including two to China’s first space station, Tiangong-1.

In addition to human spaceflight, the Chinese have also undertaken scientific missions like Chang’e 4. Its first lunar mission, Chang’e 1, orbited the moon in October 2007 and a rover landed on the moon in 2013. China’s future plans include a new space station, a lunar base and possible sample return missions from Mars.

New Space Race?

The most notable feature of the Chinese space program, especially compared to the early American and Russian programs, is its slow and steady pace. Because of the secrecy that surrounds many aspects of the Chinese space program, its exact capabilities are unknown. However, the program is likely on par with its counterparts.

In terms of military applications, China has also demonstrated significant skills. In 2007, it undertook an anti-satellite test, launching a ground-based missile to destroy a failed weather satellite. While successful, the test created a cloud of orbital debris that continues to threaten other satellites. The movie “Gravity” illustrated the dangers space debris poses to both satellites and humans. In its 2018 report on the Chinese military, the Department of Defense reported that China’s military space program “continues to mature rapidly.”

Despite its capabilities, the U.S., unlike other countries, has not engaged in any substantial cooperation with China because of national security concerns. In fact, a 2011 law bans official contact with Chinese space officials. Does this signal a new space race between the U.S. and China?

As a space policy researcher, I can say the answer is yes and no. Some U.S. officials, including Scott Pace, the executive secretary for the National Space Council, are cautiously optimistic about the potential for cooperation and do not see the beginning of a new space race. NASA Administrator Jim Brindenstine recently met with the head of the Chinese space program at the International Astronautical Conference in Germany and discussed areas where China and the U.S. can work together. However, increased military presence in space might spark increased competition. The Trump administration has used the threat posed by China and Russia to support its argument for a new independent military branch, a Space Force.

Regardless, China’s abilities in space are growing to the extent that is reflected in popular culture. In Andy Weir’s 2011 novel “The Martian” and its later film version, NASA turns to China to help rescue its stranded astronaut. While competition can lead to advances in technology, as the first space race demonstrated, a greater global capacity for space exploration can also be beneficial not only for saving stranded astronauts but increasing knowledge about the universe where we all live. Even if China’s rise heralds a new space race, not all consequences will be negative.The Conversation

Wendy Whitman Cobb, associateprofessor of Political Science, Cameron University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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12 comments for “Will China’s Moon Landing Launch a New Space Race?

  1. C. Kent
    January 20, 2019 at 10:11 am

    Nothing is said here. If this were the Wash Post I’d chock it up to “who gives a shit if this is bs” careerist doodling, but why is this here?

    The fact is there are real reasons China would drop a box on any part of the moon and it would be interesting to have at least a well considered scientific/military/industrial spinoff conjecture that addresses something other than pop culture and tabloid attention-seeking. Instead it’s invocation of the Middle America fright term “space race” which in itself means absolutely nothing but scares China bigoted paranoids into seeking protection by the liars at the Pentagon, and empowers jingoist demagogues. Why bother?

    Caveat: I’m trying to lose a 45 year NYT habit via journalist sources that are not Trump deranged neoliberal careerists, or neocon Christian jokers on the make. I am moved by this fluff piece to wonder how articles find there why here, whether this a really nice source of data not the NYT, or if it’s just garbage.

    P.S. There ought to be a disclaimer for the image used at the top of this article, it is a fake of course, a Photoshop creation that will no doubt be taken as an actual historic artifact. That is unless a post with a Chinese flag implanted itself on the lunar surface without any disturbance of the micro fine dust that makes up the ground it. On that same note upon reviewing the source of this reprint, I see there is an included photo “The far side of the moon taken by the Chang’e 4 lunar probe, Jan. 3, 2019” that is odd to my understanding as it is well illuminated. You could do that within perhaps 100ft with a flash, but not to the horizon as in the picture. This should set off bullshit detectors in anyone who’s had their coffee this morning.

  2. elmerfudzie
    January 18, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    The USA needs a doctrinal response to the (UN) Moon Treaty of 1979. Something to the effect that we will mine all future precious metals, in coordination with China, and it’s partners. To fashion a “Fort Knox” of sorts (bear with me, I have some points to make)…. It will house, gold, diamonds, rare earths, et cetera and simultaneously , The USA, will relinquish those responsibilities now assigned to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, then transferring them to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Philippines, South Korea and associated ASEAN countries. These actions will placate Japan, simultaneously assuring that the USD survives it’s currency reserve status or at the very least, eliminate our nations’, foreign debt crisis. These concessions will assume the shape of a bartering or exchange (as recompense) for U.S. , grooming a long standing Pacific Rim naval military posture gradually developed over seventy years . This new reconfiguration will be supported by a Fort Knox, literally, found on the Moon. The handover of our far eastern naval forces, (USPAC), materiel and logistics, requires certain “skills” found within the U.S Diplomatic Corps. They must be reawakened perhaps a summons aimed at retired Corps members, a call to return to their post(s), on behalf of our country. LISTEN to me President Trump! because the alternatives are very grim indeed!…

    As I’ve previously commented at CONSORTIUMNEWS; whomever occupies the Moon militarily, will control the “earth-Moon gravity well” and thus will essentially control the front gate to the entire solar system. United Nations officialdom took steps to counter western bankster hopes for control over the moons mineral wealth by ratifying The Moon Treaty in 1979. A gradual development of an internationally-accepted “space law” or Outer Space Treaty circa 1967 clearly states in Article 11 of that treaty, I quote: “The Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind.” The treaty also prohibits national appropriation, so that no military bases or claims to ownership are allowed. Please note, that the U.S. A. never signed the Moon Treaty however if the hidden provocateurs (USA bansksters) attempt using our military to seize the “gravity well” or prohibit extraction mining by BRICS/SCO nations, world war three will commence in earnest !

    Finally, Russia must not be ignored. May I point out to the Western Occident Bankers, those recent history making achievements of Mother Russia? For example: The first nation to launch a satellite into outer space? who single handed-ly, defeated Nazi Germany? a nation that allowed itself (circa 1991) to be debased and financially raped by western “carpetbaggers”. This mayhem in turn, followed by the rise of the current president, Vladimir Putin, who has (tactfully) obliged the USA’s, lopsided economy by his cooperation with western MIC manufacturers, by affirming a “propaganda” scare; that Mother Russia now possesses hyper-sonic weapons that nullify (non-existent) defensive missile shields, soooo reminiscent of Ronald Ray-Guns, missile shield crap.

    ASIDE: President Putin, please telephone our dice rolling, womanizing, billionaire POTUS and convince him to meet with you at Camp David or perhaps hold some lengthy chit chat in (the beautiful) Sochi resort area.

    Allow me to conclude with a “poetic” but apropos? statement:

    When I’m really disheartened (typing this commentary, for example) … It’s wonderful to know that Her majesties gin (House of Windsor) is a “Brompton’s cocktail” for the blues when topped off with Stolichnaya’s 100 proof vodka… I urge the two business district representatives (City of London) to give it a try. Reduce your long-standing frictions with the central bank of Russia. Keep the peace and break bread, or booze, … I wouldn’t dare to advocate globalism, but mutual respect is essential, so be GENEROUS regarding Russia!

    • C. Kent
      January 20, 2019 at 10:22 am

      I will give you this, you seem humanitarian and you have my respect for that. You are a humanitarian and completely without factual knowledge of what you speak. You ramble on but obviously don’t understand even basic physics. We won’t be mining the Moon or living there or making any profit off of any venture there whatsoever. Every trip or venture to the Moon will always cost more than it is worth and have a negative yield for the nation that attempts it.

      There is no military advantage of any sort to using the Moon, there NO GRAVITY WELL to control the GATE TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM – ha ha that is the most ignorant thing I have ever read.

      I really have to wonder how people manage to fool themselves into this sort of nonsense, it’s dismaying.

  3. Realist
    January 18, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    In order to accept your contention one must assume that the entire rest of the world has been in on the American “ruse” for the past fifty years. The Russians admitted the truth at the time–the U.S. actually landed on the Moon and brought back geological samples from that world. When the Russians sent automated landers to the Moon which also brought back rock samples to Earth, studies showed their geochemistry was identical to the material our astronauts had gathered.

    According to your model, even Japan and India must be in on the putative great con, as both countries sent orbiters around the Moon (at least a decade ago already) and both found and recorded images of all the NASA landing sites on Earth’s closest neighbor. The tire tracks of the lunar rovers and even the astronauts footprints are clearly discernible, along with the landing assemblage of each LEM.

    Moreover, the effects of reduced gravity are clearly discernible in several different ways on the film footage taken by the astronauts in situ, including not only the experiments that basically allowed Gallileo’s work to be replicated in apparent “slow motion” but also the trajectory arcs of dust thrown up by the wheels of the rovers and the “hang time” of that dust. How was that faked decades before the introduction of CGI and captured on archaic film cameras? Just slowing down the projection speed doesn’t mimic the effects you see. I’m not a physicist, but scientists have done the actual math to corroborate that the events recorded happened under the force of 1/6th gravity.

    As the head of the Russian space agency recently said, it would have cost much more money and been much more difficult to fake the Apollo landings than to actually carry them out. People like you only serve the grand deceivers by eroding public confidence in absolutely everything, even in events that clearly happened in front of billions of watchful eyes. When you have us doubting absolutely everything in the real world, there will be no accepted standard for ascertaining truth and the deceivers can preach their false narratives to a compliant supine public.

  4. Alaine Lowell
    January 18, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Somehow it didn’t show up when I clicked on comments. I see it now but will anyone else?

  5. Rob
    January 18, 2019 at 11:46 am

    In the event of a new space race, the U.S. may well turn it over to the private sector rather than NASA, as government agencies cannot be trusted to do anything well, and more importantly, there’s lots of money to be made in such an endeavor, so long as taxpayers are footing the bill. If so, China will be the runaway winner.

  6. Jeff Harrison
    January 18, 2019 at 11:41 am

    Don’t be silly. Of course this will prompt another space race. The first space race was prompted by the US who just couldn’t stand the thought that the old SovU might get out ahead of the US in space. Unfortunately for the US, the USSR was already ahead of the US with the first satellite and man in space. But, as the phrase goes, the US turned and burned (as in billions of bux when billions was still a whole lot), caught up to the USSR and then surpassed them. Although it should be noted that most space launches are made using Russian rocket motors. The only question is: what will we be racing for. The only thing I can think of is the militarization of space and we (as in humanity) really don’t want to let that happen.

  7. Nathan
    January 18, 2019 at 9:58 am

    Note to author

    2nd paragraph: “…among the Great Power[s]”

    4th paragraph: “…disrupted [these] programs

    ~The Friendly Proofreader

  8. mike k
    January 18, 2019 at 9:56 am

    We have a naïve faith that more and more advanced technology will somehow prove beneficial to us, ignoring the life ending dangers that have accompanied these “gifts”. Trojan horse anyone?

  9. David G
    January 18, 2019 at 1:55 am

    “In 2007, [China] undertook an anti-satellite test, launching a ground-based missile to destroy a failed weather satellite. While successful, the test created a cloud of orbital debris that continues to threaten other satellites. The movie ‘Gravity’ illustrated the dangers space debris poses to both satellites and humans.”

    In real life, only China and the U.S. have conducted such risky anti-satellite tests, but in “Gravity” the culprit is … wait for it … Russia. Of course!

  10. January 18, 2019 at 12:33 am

    I think all countries should collaborate on developing technology to intercept and destroy or deflect any errant asteroids or else humans may go the way of the dinosaurs. It would also be a good reason to cooperate and cease the constant war infatuation the elite wealthy adore so much.

Comments are closed.