China gets a rocket as Cold War erupts in space

A war of words between Washington and Beijing has set the tone for a new Moon race

Nearly 50 years ago, American astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered the immortal line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The date was July 20, 1969, and he had just become the first human to set foot on the Moon.

Fast forward from that historic day, and an out-of-this-world row has broken out between China and the United States.  

By firing the first Luna shot, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has set up a chain reaction that will intensify a new space race between the world’s two largest economies. 

“We must be very concerned that China is landing on the Moon and saying: ‘It’s ours now and you stay out’,” Nelson told the German newspaper Bild in an interview at the weekend.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quick to respond, branding the remarks a “smear” campaign.

“This is not the first time that US National Aeronautics and Space Administration has ignored the facts and spoken irresponsibly about China,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing earlier this week.

“The US has constantly constructed a smear campaign against China’s normal and reasonable outer space endeavors,” he added.

To boldly go …

  • China is planning to land a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.
  • In 2020, it became only the third country to retrieve Lunar material, joining the US and the old Soviet Union.
  • The Chang’e-5 mission’s robotic lander collected rocks and samples, weighing 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds).
  • China has also launched an International Lunar Research Station project on or near the Moon with Russia.
  • This is an alternative to Washington’s Artemis Accords. The program was rolled out in 2020.
  • International partners include Australia, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, as well as Western allies such as the United Kingdom and France.
  • Its aim is to support NASA’s efforts to return astronauts to the Moon by 2025.

Yeah, they’re pretty good at stealing. I think that’s incumbent upon us to take cybersecurity very, very seriously.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson

Final frontier: Fears of a new Cold War between Beijing and Washington have spread into space. As early as 2006, Chinese hackers infiltrated NASA networks managed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

Phasers on stun: “Yeah, they’re pretty good at stealing. I think that’s incumbent upon us to take cybersecurity very, very seriously,” Administrator Nelson told Washington lawmakers in May, referring to China’s trade practices.

Beam it over: “The US wants to keep the so-called core technology firmly in its own hands, and refuses to coordinate with China and Russia for fear of ‘core technology leakage’,” China’s state-run Global Times reported on Monday.

Reality check: “Stolen trade secrets, pirated software, and counterfeiting cost the United States between US$225 billion and $600 billion per year,” Science reported back in 2017. Nothing has changed.

China Factor comment: On planet Earth, the ruling Communist Party of China has been involved in technology theft and intellectual property violations. So, why should it be any different in space?