NASA Chief Expresses Concerns Over China's Secretive Space Program

NASA warns China's "civilian" space program is actually military, raising concerns over potential lunar territory claims and heightened US-China space rivalry.

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Aqsa Younas Rana
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NASA Chief Expresses Concerns Over China's Secretive Space Program

NASA Chief Expresses Concerns Over China's Secretive Space Program

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has voiced apprehensions about China hiding its military space activities under the guise of civilian programs. In a recent appearance before the House Committee of Appropriations, Nelson, a former Florida Democrat, alleged that a significant portion of China's purportedly civilian space program is, in reality, a military endeavor.

Nelson emphasized that China has made substantial progress in space technology over the past decade but remains "very, very secretive" about its activities. He expressed concern that China could potentially assert control over the Moon if it succeeds in landing there before the United States. "A lot of what they call their civilian space program is actually a military program," Nelson stated, highlighting the perceived threat posed by China's space ambitions.

The NASA chief's comments come amid heightened tensions between the two space rivals, with the United States aiming to send astronauts back to the Moon by 2026 through its Artemis program, while China has set its sights on achieving the same feat by 2030. Nelson stressed the importance of the U.S. succeeding in its lunar mission before China, as he fears that China might claim lunar territory as its own if it reaches the Moon first, drawing parallels to its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Why this matters: The growing concerns over China's space program highlight the intensifying competition between the U.S. and China in the realm of space exploration. The implications of this rivalry extend beyond scientific advancement, as it also encompasses geopolitical tensions and the potential for territorial disputes in outer space.

Despite these apprehensions, Nelson acknowledged China's strong science and engineering capabilities, as evidenced by the completion of its Tiangong space station in 2022. He called upon China to join the Artemis Accords, which mandate that space activities be conducted for peaceful purposes. However, Nelson noted that the U.S. has not yet seen a demonstration of such peaceful intentions from China. As of now, China has over 499 satellites in orbit, more than double its number in 2019, and is also developing spy balloons and hypersonic missiles, further fueling concerns about its space program's true nature and objectives.

Key Takeaways

  • NASA chief warns China's "civilian" space program is military-driven
  • China's rapid space progress raises concerns over potential lunar claims
  • US aims to beat China in returning astronauts to the Moon by 2026
  • China has over 499 satellites in orbit, more than double 2019 numbers
  • Tensions escalate as US-China space rivalry intensifies geopolitical stakes