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‘Better watch out’: NASA boss warns of China’s lunar ambitions

He gave a terrestrial example of the South China Sea, where the Chinese military has set up bases on disputed islands. “If you doubt it, look at what they did in the Spratly Islands.”

Nelson’s hawkish comments continue NASA’s 26th Artemis I Mission, the unmanned Orion space capsule flew around the moon. The mission, widely regarded as a success, was the first major step towards his NASA plan to land astronauts on the moon and begin building a more permanent human presence.

It also comes on the heels of Congress’ passage NASA annual budgetThe agency didn’t get all the funding it requested, but Nelson insisted that nothing it “must have” had changed. Contains the main components of Artemis II and Artemis III.

But China’s aggressive space program is getting bigger and bigger. recent opening of the new space station.Beijing announced Tyconauts lunar landing target by the end of this decade. In December, the Chinese government had a vision For more ambitious initiatives such as building infrastructure in space and building a space governance system.

Any significant delays or mishaps in U.S. programs that rely on an array of new systems and equipment that are still under development risk falling behind China. NASA’s moon landing schedule is already a year behind the Trump administration.

Over the past few years, Beijing has launched a series of robotic landers and rovers to collect lunar samples. This includes the first ever on the far side of the Moon. Orbiters, landers, and rovers that have reached Mars will do the same.

The U.S. military has also expressed concern that Beijing’s development of space systems could threaten U.S. satellites, and has warned of the security implications of Beijing’s foray into deep space. .

“There’s a good chance they’ll catch up with us and overtake us,” said Space Command Lt. Gen. Nina Armagno. said last month During a visit to Australia when China was launching its 10th crew to the Shenzhou Space Station. “Their progress has been amazing — amazingly fast.”

Ah Recent Pentagon Reports to Congress He highlighted a series of recent leaps in China’s space program.

It cited China’s pioneering ability to not only land on the far side of the moon, but also set up a communications relay between the Earth and the moon using satellites launched the previous year.

The report also reveals that China is improving its ability to build space launch systems for manned exploration into deeper space.

Some NASA veterans are also watching with growing concern.

Former commander of the International Space Station and Space Shuttle, retired Air Force Colonel Terry Bartz said the contest has political and security elements.

“On some level it’s a political race to show which system works better,” he said in an interview. “What they really want is respect as the number one country in the world. They want to be the dominant power on Earth, so going to the moon means their system is working. If they beat us to the moon, it shows they are better than us.

But there are real threats to China setting foot on the moon, he added.

“There is potential for China to do on the moon,” Bartz said. “If you set up infrastructure there, for example, it could deny communications. .

The Chinese Communist government claims that such concerns about its motives are unfounded.

“Some U.S. officials have irresponsibly said they were trying to misrepresent China’s usual legitimate space efforts,” Liu Pengyu, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said in a statement. I categorically reject such statements.”

“Space is not a wrestling arena,” he added. “The exploration and peaceful use of outer space is a common endeavor of mankind and should benefit all people. We are actively working to build a community that shares the future of mankind in the space domain.”

Referring to congressional funding for the Artemis program, Nelson expressed confidence that the U.S. effort to be the first to return to the moon is on schedule. Approved the dollar.

Still, it’s up more than 5% from this year. Nelson said his efforts on the moon are what NASA wanted.

“Don’t look at the top line,” he said. “Look at the necessities.” Nelson, for example, said, human landing system It’s an ongoing race for a second lander, in the form of SpaceX’s Starliner.

“It was fully funded at the president’s request,” Nelson said.

He expressed confidence that the next lunar mission, Artemis II, could take place “within two years” and “hopefully we can accelerate it.” Its mission plan is to send a crew into lunar orbit by 2024.

But he said space agencies are under intense pressure as cost-cutting measures have forced them to reuse all the avionics in the Artemis I capsule for Artemis II.

By not developing a fully equipped spacecraft for Artemis II, NASA would have to remove all spaceflight systems from the recently returned capsule and reinstall them on another capsule. “It’s taking us time,” Nelson said.

The goal is to fly Artemis II by the end of 2024, he said. [speed it up,] It means you need time to redo them and re-certify. ”

It will then follow Artemis III’s signature goal of landing an astronaut on the moon by the end of 2025, a year behind the Trump administration’s plans.

“It all depends on two things,” says Nelson. “the space suit, are they ready? And is SpaceX ready? And I ask the question every day: “How is SpaceX progressing? And every manager says they hit every milestone.”

However, he is clearly worried that China may also be expanding its power and targeting some of the same sites for a moon landing.

“In the past decade, China has achieved great success and progress.

“And there are a lot of good places to harvest water at this time in the lunar south pole,” he said.

Asked if American astronauts would return to the moon before China arrived, Nelson replied, “Good Lord willing.”

Still, not everyone is convinced Washington and Beijing are headed for a lunar brawl.

Victoria Samson, Washington director of the Secure World Foundation, which specializes in the peaceful uses of outer space, said:

She said China, like the United States, is a party. outer space treatyProhibits nations from claiming territory over any celestial body, including the moon.

Also, sustaining long-term human presence in deep space would be difficult for any nation, she said. ”

But she agreed that there could be competition between Washington and Beijing over “limited landing sites and resources” on the moon.

“We have argued that we need to engage with China,” Samson said.

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