The head of Nasa has warned that China may attempt to claim territory on the Moon if it beats the US to setting up permanent bases on the lunar surface.
Bill Nelson, who took over the US space agency in 2021, said the US is in a new space race with China and that geopolitical tensions between the two countries on Earth could extend to the Moon.
“It is a fact, we’re in a space race,” Mr Nelson told Politico.
“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’.”
Former International Space Station (ISS) commander Terry Virts also voiced his concern, citing “potential mischief” on the part of China.
The comments follow a recent report from the US Department of Defense detailing the current state of China’s space programme, including its ability to develop spacecraft capable of landing on the far side of the Moon.
The 196-page report, published in November, also predicted the intentions of President Xi Jinping, as well as the potential for a second space race.
“Beijing’s goal is to become a broad-based, fully capable space power. Its rapidly growing space program – second only to the United States in the number of operational satellites – is a source of national pride and part of Chairman Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ to establish a powerful and prosperous China,” the report stated.
“China is developing other sophisticated space-based capabilities, such as satellite inspection and repair. At least some of these capabilities could also function as a weapon.”
China has consistently denied concerns about its motives.
A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington said: ““Some US officials have spoken irresponsibly to misrepresent the normal and legitimate space endeavours of China... China always advocates the peaceful use of outer space, opposes the weaponization of and arms race in outer space, and works actively toward building a community with a shared future for mankind in the space domain.”