In an era reminiscent of the Wild West, the rivalry between the United States and China has transcended Earth and taken to the stars. The race for power and influence has now reached the moon, as both nations set their sights on the coveted Shackleton Crater, near the lunar South Pole, for their upcoming lunar missions.
Measuring 21 kilometers in diameter and 4 kilometers in depth, Shackleton Crater poses extreme challenges, with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Celsius on sunlit edges while plunging to freezing depths in the permanently shadowed interior. However, its allure lies in the possibility of abundant water resources in the form of ice, essential for sustaining human life in space.
Recognizing the immense value of ice for generating oxygen and fuel through electrolysis, both the United States and China have marked Shackleton Crater as a vital site for future moon base construction. If successful, this venture could dramatically reduce the need for costly resource shipments from Earth.
At the forefront of space exploration, the United States has launched the ambitious “Artemis program.” Their plan involves landing humans on the moon’s south pole by 2024, following the deployment of a crewed spacecraft in lunar orbit by late 2023. The Artemis program aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon, constructing a lunar Gateway space station and eventually facilitating moon base development.
China, not to be outdone, has made significant strides in lunar exploration. With the successful landing of the Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the far side of the moon in 2019 and the discovery of billions of tons of water through the Chang’e-5 mission in 2020, China has solidified its presence on the lunar landscape. Their next steps involve the Chang’e-6 mission, set to collect additional lunar soil samples by 2024, and the Chang’e-7 mission, scheduled for 2026, to establish a research base.
The race for lunar dominance is not confined to the moon alone; it spills over into Earth’s orbit. A competition is underway between the United States and China to establish satellite internet networks by launching satellites into space. Witnessing the success of SpaceX’s Starlink, Chinese military researchers are advocating for the swift deployment of their own satellite constellation, considering the potential overcrowding of key orbits due to the escalating satellite launches.
As this cosmic rivalry intensifies, concerns have been raised about potential conflicts and territorial disputes. While the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 mandates that space exploration should benefit all nations and forbids claims of sovereignty over celestial bodies, recent US legal measures have aimed to restrict exclusive use of space resources, countering China’s rapid space development.
With space becoming a new frontier for power struggles, reminiscent of the gold mines of the Wild West, the possibility of conflicts escalating is a real concern. The race for lunar dominance could have far-reaching implications for the future of space exploration and international relations. Will the United States or China emerge as the victor in this new space race? Only time will tell.