Who owns the Moon? Nobody. But China is making a play, at least according to the head of NASA.
China’s National Space Administration might be planning a “takeover” of the Moon as part of its military space program, NASA’s administrator Bill Nelson has told the newspaper Bild.
“There is a new race to space – this time with China,” Nelson reportedly told the German outlet. “But Beijing’s plans go further: China is planning its own moon base – together with Russia!” the mag wrote.
“We must be very concerned that China is landing on the moon and saying: ‘It’s ours now and you stay out,’” the U.S. space agency chief reportedly said. “China’s space program is a military space program.”
In the interview, Nelson also charged that China was stealing technology from other countries and said Beijing is learning how to destroy or capture others’ satellites.
China was not happy.
“This is not the first time for the chief of NASA to lie through his teeth and smear China,” said Zhao Lijian, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, according to Bloomberg News. “In recent years the US openly defined space as a war-fighting domain.”
“The U.S. side has constantly constructed a smear campaign against China’s normal and reasonable outer space endeavours, and China firmly opposes such irresponsible remarks,” he said.
China is stepping up its space program and focusing on exploration of the Moon. The communist nation landed an explorer on the dark side of the Moon in 2019 and is working on launching rockets powerful enough to send astronauts to the Moon by the end of the decade.
The war of words came as NASA dispatched a satellite to the Moon. Dubbed CAPSTONE (Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment), the spacecraft was launched a week ago from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula by Rocket Lab. The satellite was set to orbit Earth for a while, then break away and use next to no internal energy as it makes its way to the Moon over the next four months.
“It’s probably going to take a while to sink in,” Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck told The Associated Press. “It’s been a project that has taken us two, two-and-a-half years and is just incredibly, incredibly difficult to execute. So to see it all come together tonight and see that spacecraft on its way to the Moon, it’s just absolutely epic.”
The project cost $33 million, which, in the world of space exploration, is pocket change. “For some tens of millions of dollars, there is now a rocket and a spacecraft that can take you to the moon, to asteroids, to Venus, to Mars,” Beck said. “It’s an insane capability that’s never existed before.”
“Now, CAPSTONE will use its own propulsion and the Sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon, a four-month journey that will have CAPSTONE inserting into its near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon on Nov. 13,” NASA said in a press release. “The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to its target orbit around the Moon.”
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent for a national newspaper. He was also the a.m. editor of the Drudge Report for four years. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.