NASA concerned about China’s military motives for Moon missions

Special to, May 8, 2024


By Richard Fisher

On April 17 before the U.S. House of Representative Committee on Appropriations, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) director Bill Nelson expressed his concerns about China beating the United States back to the Moon:

“It is incumbent on us to get there first and to utilize our research efforts for peaceful purposes…My concern would be if China got there first and said, ‘This is our territory, you stay out’.”

In May 2023 Chinese authorities revealed this depiction of the Chang’e-6 unmanned Moon mission that simulates the main elements for a future manned mission to the Moon. / Chinese Internet

Nelson added, “We believe that a lot of their so-called civilian space program is a military program.”

This is correct, China’s unmanned and manned space programs — including its manned Moon program — are now controlled by the new People’s Liberation Army Aerospace Force (PLAASF) announced by China on April 19, two days after Nelson’s testimony.

Chinese state media describes Chinese astronauts as members of the Astronaut Brigade of the People’s Liberation Army.

The next major step in Chinese military-led program that could beat the U.S. back to the Moon was launched on May 3: the unmanned Chang’e-6 Moon sample return mission that will visit the far-side of the Moon.

It is essentially a repeat of the November-December 2020 Chang’e-5 Moon sample return mission, giving China its second opportunity to practice the major elements of a future manned mission to the Moon.

Launched on a Long March-5 heavy space launch vehicle from the Wencheng Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island, the Chang’e-6 spacecraft has three major components: a Moon Lander; A second stage to the Moon Lander that lifts the collected Moon samples back to Moon orbit; And a Moon Orbiter that transports the Moon Lander to lunar obit and then docks with the sample return stage and takes it back to Earth orbit for recovery.

These allow for practice of the same skills that China’s Moon program will have to master to send Chinese astronauts to the Moon: Transporting a crewed spaceship and then a Moon Lander to lunar orbit; Docking both craft in lunar orbit; Sending the Moon Lander to the lunar surface; And then launching it from the Moon’s surface to dock with crewed spaceship to then return to the Earth.

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