The United States of America abandoned the moon more than 40 years ago, now China wants it.
A new Chinese government white paper [translation here] declares Beijing is ready to “conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing.”
The paper—that many space experts say is the Chinese version of a five-year plan for space exploration—outlines a bold, aggressive vision resolving to develop an array of technologically advanced satellites, build an impressive space station (that may have military functions), and lays the groundwork for the Red Dragon's ultimate goal: the moon.
Although China's manned lunar program will not kick into full gear until at least 2020, the powers-that-be who direct the destinies of 1.4 billion Chinese seek a permanent foothold on Earth's natural satellite. Unlike the hop, skip and jump missions of Apollo, Beijing has bigger, more aggressive plans for their lunar program.
Much bigger plans.
Chinese vision eclipses waning NASA
Speaking at a briefing concerning China's future space ambitions, China’s National Space Administration spokesman Zhang Wei declared: “Chinese people are the same as people around the world. When looking up at the starry sky, we are full of longing and yearning for the vast universe.”
While Zhang's statement may be true, left unspoken is the "yearning and longing" for the moon's rich resources and the window of opportunity to establish a military foothold on the highest ground in this part of the solar system.
In fact, the entire Chinese blueprint is being driven by military applications under the cover of exploration. As their space program accelerates officials of the National Space Administration—many in liaison with Chinese generals—seek to exploit the money to be made in space and redirect part of that capital to space expansion and the establishment of lunar cities, lunar mining operations and, most ominous, lunar military bases.
The Russians, well aware of China's ambitions, are working hard to establish the infrastructure needed to establish their own bases and mining operations on the moon. They also seek to open up the solar system and want to establish colonies on Mars.
With the discovery of massive amounts of water on the moon and riches to be had like Helium-3 and titanium, the Russians don't want to be left out of the coming moon rush.
To speed up their progress, the Russian space agency formally asked NASA during early 2011 to join it in a joint project to build nuclear powered space vessels. The Russians are motivated by a sense of urgency as they see a Chinese-dominated moon as a potential threat to their longer term economic interests and projections of strategic military power.
NASA hierarchy, pressured by the U.S. administration, declined.
NASA saw the cancellation of the Ares manned moon and Mars programs, the retirement of the space shuttle and the scaling back of its budget. While privatization of American space interests is a good thing, it cannot match the militarized space race that China and Russia are now undertaking, and the U.S. government seems blind to the inherent risks to its national security interests if China or Russia establish lunar military bases.
With U.S. space interests lagging and technology floundering, NASA has been left with little but robotic science missions while the two other major powers are busily gearing up for the conquest (and rewards) of the solar system.
If the 19th Century was the era of railroads and the 20th Century the era of flight, the 21st Century is the era of space exploration, exploitation and militarization. After all, as some have observed: the 1800s brought millionaires, the 1900s billionaires, and the 2000s will see the first trillionaires. The odds are many of those trillionaires will make their trillions from space enterprises.
Every Chinese space venture has a concurrent military application
Despite Beijing's insistence that its space program is peaceful, every program it's embarking upon has a direct military application.
Illustrating that unsettling fact is the recent deployment of a new generation of satellites that China touts as an alternative to the vaunted U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS). Called "Beidou," the Chinese satellite navigation system will eventually ring the Earth.
China publicly boasts that Beidou will be a competitive alternative to the GPS system and support such benign Earthly enterprises as farming, fishing, mining, and communications.
Intelligence analysts warn, however, that the system's architecture is also configured to assist the Chinese navy target American warships in any future military conflict.