China could claim parts of the moon as its own as the country plans to launch astronauts into space, a top NASA employee warned.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson, a former astronaut and Florida senator, believes the east Asian nation could try to prevent other countries from accessing parts of the moon with the most natural resources if they make it there before the US does, Politico reported.
"It is a fact: we’re in a space race," Nelson told the publication.
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"And it is true that we better watch out that they don’t get to a place on the moon under the guise of scientific research. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, ‘Keep out, we’re here, this is our territory.’"
Nelson added that China had similarly laid claim to a number of contested areas in the South China Sea.
The country also managed to establish a new space station in 2022 and its space program is now going from strength to strength.
Beijing has announced a goal to land its own astronauts on the moon by the end of the decade, and has some seriously out-of-this-world plans for the future – including building infrastructure in space and even setting up an otherworldly governance system.
Meanwhile, in the US, NASA has continued work on its Artemis series of missions, which has so far seen the unmanned spacecraft Orion take off for a 26-day mission, taking pictures of the moon's surface before crashing back down to the Pacific ocean.
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The Artemis 2 and 3 missions are set to follow and will see NASA explore the natural satellite in more depth in the coming years, with Artemis 2 set to take place in May 2024.
The US organisation has also broadened its horizons, sending rovers up to Mars to explore whether there may be signs of life – current or past – on our neighbouring planet.
But should NASA's plans be delayed, it risks falling behind China.
What's more, the space agency's program of trips to the moon were already delayed during the Trump administration.
Speaking of the space race, Space Force Lieutenant General Nina Armagno said in an interview last month: “It’s entirely possible they could catch up and surpass us, absolutely.
"The progress they’ve made has been stunning — stunningly fast."
Terry Virts, a former commander of the International Space Station and Space Shuttle, agreed.
"There is potentially mischief China can do on the moon,” Virts said. “If they set up infrastructure there they could potentially deny communications, for example. Having them there doesn’t make things easier. There is real concern about Chinese meddling."
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