China’s Space Programme

The landing of a lunar rover by China’s National Space Administration has grabbed news headlines around the world. The Administration’s accomplishments are significant, but the fact that China has apparently embarked unilaterally on a space programme in some ways is concerning, given the move to share costs and expertise as exemplified in the International Space Station (ISS) – a cooperative venture between the USA, European Space Agency, Russia, Japan and Canada. The European Space Agency supported the latest lunar mission, so it would appear that co-operation is possible. So why isn’t China part of the ISS?

Politics is the reason. Thanks to a law introduced by Senator Frank Wolf, NASA may not “develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company,” according to

Whist we may lament such a situation in the US, according to an article on it seems China has taken a pro-active approach to sharing information. This would point to a level of confidence by the Chinese that begs the question, who is the loser in China being refused entry to the ISS? China is now inviting foreign astronauts to be part of their own future space station. All this is distinctly pointing to the possibility that it may be the US that is left outside in the cold one day. And it doesn’t stop at a China-led International Space Station, with China quite open about its intention to establish a moon base and to exploit the moon’s resources through mining, or developing a large scale solar energy facility (which, because of the lack of an atmosphere, will be far more efficient than on earth), and using the moon as a staging post for the further exploration of space.

All this may sound fanciful, after all, the US and Soviet Union did what China is doing now half a century ago. And yet there is a difference, and it is a big difference. What motivates China isn’t an ideological battle in which being first into space, or to put a man on the moon was in and of itself a goal, but rather China sees serious potential to derive genuine benefit from space and lunar exploration.

Senator Wolf may be able to obstruct China’s progress, but with the patience, will and the resources, China’s space dreams are surely only a matter of time.

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