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We Must Prepare For Moon Wars
China is on a path to claim the Moon.
Do you ever feel like history is repeating itself? Nato is fighting a proxy war with Russia, inflation is threatening is trigger another recession, and America is in a space race to claim superiority over the Moon. It’s the Cold War all over again! Except, this time, the lunar space race is with China, and it has a decidedly different, more menacing tone. Rather than just a friendly display of whose technology is more advanced, this time, Lunar real estate and the foundation of our peaceful, cooperative space industry are under threat. But why?
China’s space programme has been making considerable gains over the past few years. In fact, China is planning to build a permanent nuclear-powered base on the Moon by the year 2028, with China’s first lunar astronauts inhabiting it in the early 2030s. This is a direct challenge to NASA, whose Artemis programme also wants to have a permanent nuclear-powered base on the Moon by 2028. Both of these plans have encountered numerous complications and delays, as is the case with all complex space missions. However, China recently announced it will deploy astronauts to the lunar surface sooner, specifically by 2030. This puts even more pressure on the Artemis program to meet its target landings.
Now, you might be thinking that there’s enough room on the moon for both nations to explore and do some research, and you’re right. But that is not the motivation for this new space race. Instead, it’s what China might do once it has a permanent presence on the lunar surface.
In an interview with Politico, NASA Chief Bill Nelson said, “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’”.
After all, it makes very little sense to set up a lunar space station before you have even landed an astronaut on the surface. So the way China’s lunar program is set up does resemble more of a land grab than a scientific endeavour.
This is emphasised by China’s current terrestrial actions. The Chinese have repeatedly staked claim to lands it doesn’t own and nuzzled into places where it doesn’t belong. Just look at its border with India, its operations in the South China Sea, or even its stance on Taiwan. China seems to be going through its colonisation stage, and the Moon could be an incredibly valuable bit of land to it in the coming years. The Moon is not only rich in useful minerals that are rare on Earth, but its low gravity makes it an ideal stopover for interplanetary travel and even special types of manufacturing. So if China wants to own a part of Mars or mine asteroids, it would be smart to own a part of the Moon first.
Why does this matter? Well, because it violates one of the most crucial pillars of the space industry: the Outer Space Treaty.
This treaty has been signed by every space-faring country, and one of its main rules is that celestial bodies are for the good of all of humanity and cannot be owned by a country. This, along with a plethora of other statutes, is why projects like the ISS are possible, as nations have to work together to make the most of space.
NASA’s Artemis missions have no intention of breaking the Outer Space Treaty because Artemis missions are only possible with the help of other space agencies such as ESA and JAXA. These agencies would pull out of their partnerships if NASA broke the Outer Space Treaty. But China’s lunar missions are completely independent, so they can break the treaty without hurting their mission.
But it seems like the US is ready to uphold the Outer Space Treaty or even break it to become peacekeepers on the Moon. General Jesse Morehouse of the U.S. Space Command has said that “The United States of America is ready to fight tonight in space if we have to.”
In the end, it will be up to who lands first and stakes their claim to Lunar land. If the US lands first, as they plan to do, and has a permanent presence on the Lunar surface first, then they can uphold the Outer Space Treaty and ensure China plays fair on the Moon. If China gets there first, the US might have to fight them to keep the moon neutral or get access to areas of special scientific interest.
But breaking the Outer Space Treaty in this way sets a precedent for the future. It will open up the doors for countries to claim territories on Mars and start their own colonies there, laying the groundwork for future wars on the Red Planet. It could also allow China to go “in for a penny, in for a pound!” and violate other aspects of the Outer Space Treaty, such as using high-altitude nuclear weapons to create Electromagnetic Pulses (EMPs) that destroy all technology for hundreds of miles around, or targeting and destroying crucial satellite infrastructure.
This is why the US is so determined to make sure China is held accountable and why it is so important that the Artemis program gets to the moon sooner rather than later. Otherwise, we risk sparking Lunar warfare.
So, the age of calm and progressive space exploration might soon be over. With the backdrop of the Earth cracking under the pressure of the looming climate apocalypse and rising international tensions, it’s all a bit silly really, don’t you think? We would all love a Star Trek — esque peaceful, cooperative exploration of the cosmos, but it seems politics and colonialism are starting to creep in, as it always seems to.
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