A new “promising” contender joins the sophisticated race to dominate space.
The United States literally leaped ahead of the Space Race after famed astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin landed on the moon on the historic day of July 20, 1969, placing the Soviet Union’s 1957 lofting of “Sputnik,” into orbit in the backseat. Then 1961 came, where Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made history as the first person to orbit Earth inside a capsule-like spacecraft named Vostok I, and it seemed the US got beaten again. The Soviet Union didn’t stay ahead in the race, though, as the US managed to reclaim dominance and keep the lead for decades. Rather than meet the Soviets effort for effort, President Kennedy set NASA’s sights on reaching the Moon. An American would be the first to set foot on another planetary body in our solar system.
However, as the world evolves and becomes more high-tech, it appears to be that a new contender in the space race will rise to go head-to-head with the reigning superpower—this time against China.
News about China hopping on the space race bandwagon isn’t exactly news, as this has been announced and known out in the open for quite some time now. They may have had a slow start, but in recent years, the communist-ruled country seems to catch up. Among its space accomplishments are the successful launch of a man into orbit in 2003, the first lunar landing in 2007, its first space walk in 2008, and the deployment of its first unmanned aircraft to the moon in 2013. In 2016, it also launched its first quantum satellite into space, which served as an additional buffer to protect its communication line against hackers.
Over the years, China has made alarming progress in expanding its military space technology, which has piqued the interest of Washington.
In fact, the director of staff of the US Space Force, Nina Armagno, recently commented on this matter, saying that Beijing could possibly catch up, if not surpass America.
“I think it’s entirely possible they could catch up and surpass us, absolutely,” Armagno said, highlighting Beijing’s “stunningly fast” progress in recent years.
Thanks to its friendly Sino-Soviet relations, China placed itself on the receiving end of Moscow’s cooperative technology transfer program in the 1950s. However, the partnership was abruptly withdrawn by the Soviets a couple of years after due to ideological differences, which consequently restricted Beijing’s efforts to grow its space programs further. The latter began to transcend back in the race after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and into the new millennium.
“[China] is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to achieve that objective,” Armagno added.
From sending people to space to setting up homegrown satellite communications and developing reusable spacecraft, China’s great leap surprised everyone. It has also been researching mining asteroids and discovering minor planets to exploit natural resources, with the latest reported successful space mining in 2021 when it brought back 4.4-pound lunar rocks using its unmanned craft, Chang’e-5.
Another recent major accomplishment for ambitious Communist China was the successful launch of three astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-15 spacecraft to its space station, a significant milestone for the country’s promising space program.
CNN reported in late November that the arrival of the three astronauts, namely, Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming, and Zhang Lu, will mark Beijing’s first crew rotation, “with two teams overlapping for five to 10 days before the Shenzhou-14 crew, who landed at the station in June, returns to Earth.”
The Shenzhou-15 crew will be responsible for finishing off the space station’s construction, which is slated to be done before the end of the year. After completion, the first stage of application and development will be launched.
China, A ‘Reckless’ Space Player
China’s efforts to take the lead on the race have been made “recklessly,” though, as Armagno noted, Beijing has conducted missile tests that rained down on Earth dangerous chunks of space debris, with the latest reported last month. According to reports, debris from a Chinese satellite launch fell uncontrolled back to Earth.
The rocket debris was the size of a ten-story building and plunged down from the edge of the atmosphere at 17,000 miles an hour before splashing into the Pacific Ocean. This is the fourth time Beijing has let this happen without warning to other nations.
“These debris fields threatened all of our systems in space, and these systems are vital to all nations’ security, economic and scientific interests,” Armagno said.
Earlier this year, the first two laboratory modules of the Chinese space station—Wentian and Mengtian—docked onto the Tianhe core cabin, the crew’s living quarters. Both booster rockets of the modules reentered uncontrollably back to the Earth’s atmosphere, creating an “unnecessary risk” to the surrounding civilians with the fiery debris coming down at hypersonic speeds.
China has been accelerating its military modernization program in recent years, and the space program is just one of the several components the communist-ruled country is trying to improve. History tells us that whoever takes over elevation gets to secure superior observation in warfare. This is why America grips tightly on its air dominance, as it is arguably the most important variable on the modern battlefield.
But will China be able to outmaneuver the US and challenge it for dominance in space.? Here’s our take on why China would lose the New Cold War Space Race.