The US risks losing the new ‘space race’ against China and giving up much of its military and financial might at the same time, an analyst and space writer warned in an exclusive interview with The Daily Express US.
After beating the Russians to the Moon 50 years ago, the US now has a new cosmic challenger with the East and West again competing to get people on the lunar surface before setting their sights on Mars.
China and America are going head-to-head on several key missions, including building a permanent base on our celestial near-neighbour and getting first dibs on its wealth of resources.
Brandon Weichert, author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, told The Daily Express US that Beijing is making up some serious ground on their rivals – and could soon surpass them.
He said: “I would dare say that China has already caught up with the US in space in several key metrics. In fact, in what I think is the most important aspect of a nation’s space program – its manned spaceflight program – the Chinese have surpassed the US.
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“At this rate, I believe that China will have boots on the Moon permanently by the end of this decade while NASA is still debating what size spacesuits to use for a similar mission to the Moon.”
China sent its first civilian astronaut into orbit last week as part of a Shenzhou-16 mission to its space station for its second in-orbit crew rotation, marking another major leap for Beijing’s fast-accelerating space program.
NASA is hoping to return astronauts to the Moon with its Artemis program by 2024, but Weichert believes China will establish a strong presence on the lunar surface first – and that could have a drastic impact on life back on Earth.
He said: “Once there, China will be able to lay claim to the most valuable bits of real estate in the moon’s southern pole, they will be able to dominate the Earth and the orbits around the Earth by using the moon as an anchor, and then be able to springboard from the lunar surface to the Martian surface.
“Space is important because, for us on Earth, that is how the US military dominates the planet with its massive network of satellite constellations. It’s how the global economy runs, too, because those satellites are responsible for perfectly timed international transactions that can be disrupted if those satellites are attacked.
“Then beyond that, the quest for natural resources is moving from the dusty, underdeveloped places on Earth to the cosmos beyond. The world’s first trillionaire will come from the space mining sector and the Chinese government is obsessed with the prospect of space mining.
“From being able to render US forces on Earth deaf, dumb, and blind by crippling our satellites in a ‘Space Pearl Harbor’ attack to becoming the world’s greatest power by dominating space and the budding space economy before the Americans can, China is set to prove that, in fact, the universe is an ocean and it will become a Chinese lake.”
NASA does enjoy a marginal lead on China at the moment, having more active spaceports with seven operational launch sites on both American and foreign soil, and plans for 13 more. Meanwhile, China has four operational spaceports and has plans to build just two more.
And while Beijing’s progress in this domain has been impressive, the US’s space budget still outweighs China’s. The US space budget in 2021 was roughly $59.8billion. China has ramped up space spending, doubling it over the last five years, space expert Svetla Ben-Itzhak writes in The Conversation But China’s estimated $16.18bn budget in 2021 was still less than a third of the US budget.