Lunar Relationships – The United States, China and a Brand New Space Race

NASA hopes that a new international alliance will be able to push for its return to the Moon

(Video by Jose Prio for The Washington Post


Saudi Arabia is not well-known for its space program. Her space agency has only four years of existence. He has never launched any rocket and is only one astronaut, Sultan bin Salman Al Saud. He is a member the Saudi royal family that flew on the spaceship in 1985.

However, the kingdom has agreed to NASA’s lunar program. Exploration of the lunar surface Plus a massive US-led diplomatic effort to create a broad international coalition in space, even with nations that have little or no experience outside Earth’s atmosphere—or, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, nations with strained relations with the United States. NASA has signed the Artemis Accords (a legal framework that governs space use and regulates behavior on the Moon) by more than 20 countries.

The accords represent perhaps the most ambitious international effort in space policy since 1967’s Outer Space Treaty. They may require nations to abide by a set of rules, such as sharing scientific discoveries publicly and creating “safety zones” where nations can operate without inconvenience about the lunar surface.

The Accords go beyond that. It aims to foster an alliance in space that would allow the United States to finally return to the moon and establish a permanent presence there — a key step in what some see as a space race with China. NASA worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to form a broad alliance. This included traditional allies like Canada and France, as well as countries that are building their space programs such as Nigeria, Nigeria, and Rwanda.

“The response from the international community has been unmistakable — excitement and hope that the United States will once again share the lead,” said Mike Gold, an aerospace industry official who was one of the agreement’s authors at NASA. “Our partners don’t want to cooperate with the Chinese in general, but if America fails lead, they have no choice but to work with them,” said Mike Gold, an aerospace industry official who was one of the authors of the agreement at NASA.

Over the past few years, more countries developed space programs. He rushes into the depths of the universe. India and Israel attempted to land a spacecraft onto the moon in 2019. South Korea sent a spacecraft into lunar orbit in December 2018. Late last year, a Japanese company called ispace launched a lunar landing vehicle on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

But the most important — and worrying — country for the United States is China, which is beginning to erode the technological leadership that Americans have held for decades. China was the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side the moon in 2019. The rover is launched to Mars in 2021. This makes China the only country to successfully launch a rover to Mars. It also built its own space station in Earth orbit, at a time when progress is being made on the International Space Station. The Russian invasion has also strained relations between the United States of America and Russia, who are the two main partners on this station. Ukraine.

While the Cold War space race of 1960s required a military effort, such as gathering resources to defeat Soviet Union to Moon, today’s race involves more soft power and aims to unite allies and establish bases to peacefully use space. NASA officials stated that NASA will partner with Saudi Arabia to help demonstrate how wide Washington’s alliance is.

The current space race is also more dynamic than that of 50 years ago. The US and China are not content with just reaching the Moon. They want to extract water from it.

China’s ambitions in space have been a rallying call for Congress and NASA to act more urgently during the Trump administration. Vice President Mike Pence, calling on NASA to accelerate its return from the Moon in 2019, stated that the United States was in a race to China. He compared it to the space race against Russia to the Moon. He stated that China’s goal is “to seize the lunar strategic top ground and become the first country in space exploration.”

There was widespread concern that the new administration would end the Artemis program after President Donald Trump was defeated in the election by Joe Biden. It was instead embraced by the White House of Joe Biden, making it the first human lunar exploration mission to survive successive administrations since Apollo.

It also echoed Trump’s hardline rhetoric about China. Bill Nelson, who was appointed NASA administrator by President Biden called China an “extremely hostile competitor” and recently warned: “Watch out for the Chinese.” NASA is effectively prohibited from partnering with China in Space under a 2011 law. This was due to concerns that China could steal American technology.

Pam Milroy, NASA’s deputy administrator, stated in an interview that she was worried about China and other countries on the moon. She said this, particularly when it comes to extracting resources like water ice. Are you making me nervous? She replied. “Yes, especially in China.”

This, she said, is “one of the reasons the Artemis Accords are so important. Just having a partnership so we can be transparent and clear and everyone has an understanding of what we’re trying to achieve.”

For example, the agreement signatories agree that they will provide emergency assistance in case of injury to an astronaut. They will also agree not to destroy historic sites like the Apollo 11 landing zone. They will also share scientific data and pledge transparency in relation to their space plans.

The agreements would allow countries or companies to create “safety zones” so they can work on resource extraction without interference, which would be critical if several countries were competing for the same resource in the same place — as in the case of the lunar south pole, where NASA and China are interested. to go.

An international coalition would also be helpful in establishing rules of the road in the vast and lawless expanse of space. Space is becoming increasingly polluted by debris that threatens sensitive satellites, as well as the International Space Station. Russia destroyed a satellite that was inoperable last year, scattering hundreds upon debris and forcing NASA as well as Russian cosmonauts into flight. to put on their spacesuitsThey took refuge inside their spacecraft to protect themselves from being bombed.

Milroy stated that he and the other original signatories to the Artemis Accords had come together to reflect upon the next era in space exploration and ensure that it is conducted in accordance with fundamental principles and responsible behaviour. agreements.

Gould stated that Russia and China now have a precedent and must be clear about how they will comply with international obligations.

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NASA is becoming increasingly frustrated by China’s launch of rockets that then fall uncontrollably onto Earth. This is against the rule — rockets usually fall into the ocean, or return with a soft landing, as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 does — and potentially threaten populated areas.

“It is critical that all spacefaring nations be responsible and transparent in their space activities and follow established best practices, particularly with regard to the uncontrolled return of large rocket body debris — debris that could result in serious damage or loss of life,” Nelson said. In a November statement.

These agreements could also have another benefit: they will make it harder for future presidential administrations that to kill off Artemis, a trend which has plagued NASA deep space exploration efforts over the past decades. This was the thought of the accords’ architects. It proved to be correct after the Biden administration took over where Trump left off, retained the program, and continued to recruit new countries to join. More than 20 countries, including Israel, Brazil, Colombia, Israel, and Singapore, have now signed up for a broad coalition that Republicans as well as Democrats support.

“Sustainability was a major reason the Artemis Accords were so important,” Gold said. “If you look at previous NASA efforts, the failure to establish a human exploration mission beyond Earth’s orbit was not just an option, it was a certainty. This contrasts starkly with the International Space Station which has been the crown jewel in global human spaceflight over the past decades. This was due to two reasons. It is international and has enjoyed worldwide support. It has enjoyed bipartisanship in Congress.”

The partnership on the space station is a good example of how nations can cooperate to increase exploration and diplomatic relations. However, it also shows how fragile these partnerships can sometimes be. Russia threatened to withdraw from the agreement but had not taken any concrete steps. The United States considered Russia’s hard-line rhetoric to be rambling. NASA is still working out how to make it happen on its own and is looking to the private sectors to build commercial stations to replace the International Space Station.

China is now building its own station, and is planning to send humans to the Moon. Its recent progress has made it a real competitor to the United States in space. However, it has not agreed with any of the criteria in the agreements.

If the United States and China are neighbors at the Moon’s South Pole, this could create a tension and awkward situation. It is already a barren, forbidding place. However, frosty relationships can make it even colder.

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