Space is the ultimate strategic high ground. This domain is divided into various zones. First there are the orbits around the Earth: low-Earth orbit, medium-Earth orbit, and geosynchronous orbit. Ancillary to those orbits are the Lagrange points, which are the orbits separating the Earth from its moon. Next up is the Earth-Moon system. If you control the orbits around the Earth and the Lagrange points—as well as the moon itself—you effectively have total dominance over the Earth below. Today, China is poised to dominate not just the orbits around the Earth, but the entire Earth-Moon system. The Americans, despite having won the original space race with the Soviet Union, have yet to realize that another space race is at hand.
In 2018, Ye Peijian, the man charged with getting Chinese taikonauts to the moon, told audiences that China’s leaders viewed the “universe as an ocean.” Beijing believes the moon is analogous to “the South China Sea,” and Mars is akin to the Philippines. Chinese leaders, therefore, are applying classical geopolitical principles to space at a time when their space program is enjoying extraordinary success, all while the Americans remain firmly grounded (and as Washington is doing its best to complicate and stymie SpaceX through onerous regulations).
Recently, China announced it was building the rocket system that would deliver its personnel to the moon by 2026. It’s hardly a far-fetched goal; the Chinese have either hit or come very close to fulfilling their lofty space policy goals since the turn of this century.
China’s rockets are essentially as advanced as SpaceX’s rockets are. As I wrote in Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, China’s space program is likely to overtake the U.S. program unless Washington embraces drastic changes. Yet, NASA has already announced that its lunar return mission—originally approved by former President Donald Trump in 2018—has been pushed back to the 2030s. China announced its 2026 target shortly after NASA’s disappointing news.
U.S. space policy leaders seem unconcerned—even though China’s leaders have made clear their intention to take space before the Americans can and thereby deny us access to this critical domain.
America’s ailing space program needs clarity from the Biden Administration. Instead, it’s getting more confusion. It took almost an entire year, for example, for Kamala Harris to convene a meeting of the White House Space Council. In early December, Harris finally led her first meeting of this important group of space leaders, wherein she vowed that the nation’s space program would focus on stopping global warming and cooperating more with other countries in space.
Further, in Washington, where “personnel is policy,” it should be noted that NASA Director Bill Nelson, a former astronaut and long-time Democratic Party senator from Florida, has a long history of advocating joint space missions with China. But America doesn’t need greater cooperation with China in space. It needs to beat China in the new space race while it still can.
While NASA is dithering on its moon mission, the agency did take the time to blow almost $200 million since 2009 on new spacesuit development intended to ensure women could use the spacesuits . . . and it is unlikely that these spacesuits will ever be built beyond the initial prototype!
What could China’s space program build with $200 million? They certainly wouldn’t waste a decade building a gender-neutral space suit!
Many Americans forget that geopolitics plays heavily into space development. The Left is certainly in denial about this fact. But geopolitics is essential in space development. Toward that end, the Chinese are now happily taking Russia along with them to the stars. And a Sino-Russian entente in space development could easily knock the Americans down from our precarious perch in orbit.
Technically the second most dominant space power, Russia’s space program, Roscosmos, has recently fallen on hard times. In fact, last year reports surfaced that Roscosmos was broke. Despite this, Russia has a suite of systems and decades of experience in space that China could benefit from if Beijing and Moscow were partnered in space. China, too, has boatloads of cash. Russian space tech and knowledge would be invaluable to China’s growing interest in dominating space before the Americans can.
Stronger ties between Russia and China in space—including a proposed jointly operated lunar base—is cause for worry. On Earth, the two autocratic powers are moving closer together to form an anti-American bridgehead in Eurasia. This newfound, growing partnership on Earth would have powerful results for the autocrats in space.
Once ensconced on the Moon, with Americans below still trying to build the perfect gender-accomodating space suit, the Sino-Russian alliance could establish weapons systems designed to hold the United States hostage from above. The Eurasian alliance could also begin mining the moon for lucrative rare earth minerals—a potential trillion-dollar industry. Imagine if China and Russia got the almighty first-mover advantage. All these things are possible if China can conquer the moon before the Americans—which Beijing is currently poised to do.
America is currently losing the new space race to China and possibly Russia. Should America lose the new space race, it will lose the Earth. It’s about time that our leaders recognize this and take the necessary actions to prevent a total defeat in the new space race.