In May of this year, China landed a rover on Mars, expanding the country’s presence in space. This feat showed the world the country’s space capabilities and rekindled the flames of competition in space, but is there really cause for concern?
China became the second country to ever successfully land on Mars when its Zhurong rover landed May 14 on the martian plain Utopia Planning … Jurong’s arrival followed NASA’s successful landing. Persistence all-terrain vehicle in Jezero Crater on Mars on Feb.18, the move is one of many China is taking to expand its presence in space, including building a space station and continuing to explore the far side of the moon with its Chang’e 4 rover.
For now, however, the leaders of the US space industry like new NASA administrator Bill Nelson and former astronaut Pam Melroy, candidate for the position of assistant administrator, congratulated China on this incredible achievement, they also shared words of caution with Nelson, calling China a “very aggressive competitor.”
Connected: China’s Tianwen-1 mission to Mars in photographs
Issuing a warning
In a dramatic manner Nelson issues warning to US lawmakers during a congressional hearing on May 19, holds a photograph of Mars taken by the Chinese rover Zhurong. “I want you to see this photo … this is a very aggressive competitor,” he said of China.
“They’re going to land people on the moon. This should tell us something about our need to get rid of the chatter and vigorously launch our Human Landing System program, ”Nelson said, adding that China’s recent progress in space adds: a new element on whether we want to get serious and proactive. land people on the lunar surface. ”
Nelson seemed to mean that China’s success in space is putting more pressure on NASA to land humans on the moon again. With these Artemis programNASA is currently working to bring humans back to the lunar surface and establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by the end of the decade.
Nelson added that China is developing three “large landers” to land near the moon’s south pole, the same region that Artemis is aiming to land on. He also said, citing unnamed reports, that China is planning a flyby and landing on the moon this decade.
Nelson used his warnings of China’s progress to justify the need for more funding for the US space agency. “NASA cannot do this alone,” he said. “We want strong competition, but for that we have to have the money.”
“Nelson knows that NASA needs more money than it currently does to carry out the Artemis program to return humans to the moon,” David Burbach, assistant professor of homeland security at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, told Space. com. Bourbach’s comments are his personal opinions and do not reflect those of his employer.
“I think it was basically a very convenient way to remind senators that there are competitors in space,” Burbach added. “I don’t think China can push the US back to the moon. And we definitely have an aggressive Mars exploration program. ” So I think it’s a stretch to assume that China is about to surpass the United States. in those areas. But Nelson is right that China is quickly catching up to become a very serious player in deep space exploration. “
Nelson isn’t the only one who cares about him. Melroy was asked about China’s space activities during Senate hearings May 20 and pointed to the many recent achievements of China. “This is not only a landing on Mars, which is very impressive, but also a couple of landings on the moon, and, of course, the beginning of the construction of a new spacecraft. low earth orbit space stationMelroy said.
“China has very clearly formulated its goals – to deprive the US of space superiority,” she added.
Not everyone thinks the same.
“I think China is still far from losing its space supremacy,” Burbach said. Rather, he added, “I think China is moving into slot two if there is a global hierarchy of space capabilities.” Bourbach also raised the question of what space supremacy means, as if “we’re talking about who makes the most exciting or most challenging [things in space]”I think the US is still in a pretty good position.”
Not just about landing a rover
Melroy argues that her concerns are not just about China’s continued accomplishments. “We are rightly concerned when you add other issues related to intellectual property theft and aggressive behavior in space.”
There have been concerns over the years about illegal information sharing, as under public law NASA “cannot engage in any bilateral action with China or China-owned companies.” according to NASA… In fact, in January 2021 according to a report by ReutersA NASA scientist has pleaded guilty to lying about his ties to a Chinese government program that attracts researchers from overseas to develop relationships.
“NASA will continue to follow the law,” she continued. “This is done so that the United States would very carefully consider any interaction with China. However, we must work together in space. So there are times when it is in the best interests of the United States to talk to China. “
In May, China raised concerns around the world when a national Long March 5B (CZ-5B) rocket crashed to Earth uncontrollably. The rocket launched Tianhe, the first module for China’s new space station. While it was projected that the launch vehicle or parts of the launch vehicle would not land in a densely populated area, such a possibility remained. Fortunately, the remains of the rocket fell in the Indian Ocean, far from human settlements, but the danger caused a lot of concern both at NASA and around the world.
“Space powers must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth associated with the re-entry of space objects into the atmosphere, and ensure maximum transparency regarding these operations,” Nelson said. wrote in a statement before the rocket hit Earth.
“It is clear that China does not comply with responsible standards for its space debris. It is imperative that China and all space powers and commercial organizations operate in space responsibly and transparently to ensure the safety, stability, security and long-term sustainability of space activities,” he added is he.
“Landing a rover on Mars will not affect America’s national security, but China is working on other kinds of space capabilities and technologies that affect America’s national security,” Brain Weeden, director of program planning at the Secure World Foundation, told Space.com. email. Wieden’s comments are his personal opinion and do not reflect the opinion of his employer.
In addition to China’s advances on Mars and the Moon, the country has been relentlessly working on military uses of space, including testing anti-satellite missiles and, according to the 2018 report, development of hypersonic weapons, overseen by the US Department of Defense. At the same time, China looks to other countries to expand international cooperation, most recently, agreeing build a research station on the moon together with Russia.
Looking to the future
So what’s next? China continues to develop its space station and explore Mars and the Moon, while the US continues its many space ventures. Due to the law prohibiting bilateral activities between NASA and China, cooperation in general is extremely limited.
However, despite political restrictions on information sharing, academic researchers will continue to publish articles on Jurong’s findings on Mars. Since this is not a direct transfer of information between two countries, it is a small way in which scientists in the United States and abroad can benefit from exploration regardless of which rover of which country was collecting the data.
“The results of the Chinese lunar rover are published in scientific journals” TK Edwin Wright told Space.com. “In this way, the results are communicated to the community.” In addition, although NASA scientists cannot work with China, “academic scientists are free to cooperate with Chinese scientists,” he added.
For now, competition seems to outweigh cooperation as both countries continue to push the boundaries of science and technology in space. However, as we have seen throughout NASA history, especially given the political pressures of the 1960s “space race” with the former Soviet Union that prompted NASA to land the first humans on the moon, competition can spur innovation.
“I hope this competition will encourage both the United States and China and other countries to develop space technologies and capabilities that will bring greater benefits to everyone on Earth,” Wieden said. “But if too much emphasis is placed on ‘us or them’ rhetoric, competition in space could exacerbate tensions here on Earth, leading to conflict, which will be bad for everyone.”
The possibility of heightening political as well as social tensions raises additional concerns, especially as research has shown that the number of hate crimes against Asia increased in 2020. will continue to grow in 2021 (Partly, according to experts, due to the COVID-19 virus originating from China).
“Over the past four-plus years, many in the US have portrayed China as the enemy, not always distinguishing between the Chinese people, the country of China and the ruling Chinese Communist Party,” Wieden said. “The hardest part is identifying irresponsible government behavior, such as the return of the CZ-5B, without turning it into a racist accusation against an entire people or culture.”
Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@ or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.