The Real Reason Why China Is Obsessed With the Moon

Commentary The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) recently announced that it will strengthen its governance in space over the next five years. If this isn’t worrying enough, it will be assisted by Russia. The two countries recently confirmed plans to explore the moon. Explore the big piece of rock for what, exactly? This is where things get interesting, and why the United States should be concerned. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took “one small step” for mankind. Fifty years later, Chang’e 4, a Chinese lander named in honor of the ancient moon goddess, touched down on the far side of the moon. This was a historic moment, as no human (or robot) had ever ventured to the nether regions of the moon (Armstrong, it’s important to note, walked on the near side). Upon landing, the Chinese spacecraft quickly released a rover (Yutu-2) onto the exotic terrain. Equipped with tools, Yutu-2 set about exploring the lunar surface. More than 1,000 days on from the landing, Yutu-2 was still there—inspecting, probing, and exploring. Not content with sending human-made objects to the moon, the CCP intends to launch a human lunar landing mission by the end of the decade. According to space journalist Andrew Jones, the CCP also intends to deliver “architecture to the lunar surface for long-term stays.” The United States has similar plans. These plans are costly ones. According to NASA’s latest audit, carried out by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), spending on its Artemis program—a project designed to return humans to the moon before 2030—will cost at least $93 billion. Is it really worth adding tens of billions of dollars to the country’s debt just to send a few people to the moon? In March of this year, the U.S. national debt reached an all-time high of $28 trillion. By the time NASA launches its next manned mission, the national debt is expected to be $89 trillion. Is this space race little more than muscle flexing? As Marina Koren has noted, for “spacefaring nations, impressive feats, whether it’s landing on Mars or on the far side of the moon, will always be seen through the lens of the nation that managed to pull it off.” The Heritage Foundation’s Dean Cheng, an analyst who focuses on the politics of space, appears to echo Koren’s sentiments. “When you are the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon, that says something about your science and technology, that says something about your industry,” he said. But the U.S.-China space race goes deeper, quite literally. Muscle flexing is just one part of the equation. Mining is the second part. A Long March-4C rocket lifts off from the southwestern Xichang launch center carrying the Queqiao (“Magpie Bridge”) satellite in Xichang, China’s southwestern Sichuan Province on May 21, 2018. This communications relay satellite allows a rover to send images from the far side of the Moon. (China OUT/AFP via Getty Images) Mining the Moon To the untrained eye, the moon is little more than an airless, soulless, desolate place. But it’s also a valuable source of building materials, including water, fuel, and oxygen. In November of last year, a UK-based firm won a European Space Agency contract to develop rather intriguing technology. As Ian Sample, a science journalist, reported at the time, the technology could be used to “convert moon dust and rocks into oxygen, leaving behind aluminum, iron and other metal powders for lunar construction workers to build with.” If the technology proves to be successful, then we can expect to see extraction facilities being built on the moon. With “oxygen and valuable materials on the surface,” wrote Sample, humans will no longer have to “haul them into space at enormous cost.” In other words, advances in technology look likely to create a lucrative lunar economy. We are witnessing a new era of lunapolitics, where political interests intersect with economic, exploitative interests. Ian Crawford, a professor of planetary science and astrobiology at Birkbeck College, London, believes the moon possesses an abundance of raw materials. Because of this, governments have a vested, economic interest in mining the moon. Take helium-3 (He3), for example. Potentially, in the not-so-distant future, this gas could be used to fuel nuclear fusion power plants. Although there is a limited amount of helium-3 available here, on planet Earth, there is an abundance of it on the moon. In fact, according to scientists in China, the moon’s Helium-3 reserves could provide enough clean energy to power our planet for the next 10,000 years. The value of this gas cannot be emphasized enough. As analysts at Zephyr Solutions, a leading supplier of compressed gasses, have noted, one ton of the gas “has an energy equivalent to 50 million barrels of oil,” worth somewhere in the region of $3 billion. There may be “more than 1.2 million tons of Helium-3 sitting on the moon” right now, they said. No wonder China, with the help of Russia, and the United

The Real Reason Why China Is Obsessed With the Moon

Commentary

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) recently announced that it will strengthen its governance in space over the next five years. If this isn’t worrying enough, it will be assisted by Russia.

The two countries recently confirmed plans to explore the moon. Explore the big piece of rock for what, exactly? This is where things get interesting, and why the United States should be concerned.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took “one small step” for mankind. Fifty years later, Chang’e 4, a Chinese lander named in honor of the ancient moon goddess, touched down on the far side of the moon. This was a historic moment, as no human (or robot) had ever ventured to the nether regions of the moon (Armstrong, it’s important to note, walked on the near side).

Upon landing, the Chinese spacecraft quickly released a rover (Yutu-2) onto the exotic terrain. Equipped with tools, Yutu-2 set about exploring the lunar surface. More than 1,000 days on from the landing, Yutu-2 was still there—inspecting, probing, and exploring.

Not content with sending human-made objects to the moon, the CCP intends to launch a human lunar landing mission by the end of the decade. According to space journalist Andrew Jones, the CCP also intends to deliver “architecture to the lunar surface for long-term stays.”

The United States has similar plans. These plans are costly ones. According to NASA’s latest audit, carried out by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), spending on its Artemis program—a project designed to return humans to the moon before 2030—will cost at least $93 billion.

Is it really worth adding tens of billions of dollars to the country’s debt just to send a few people to the moon? In March of this year, the U.S. national debt reached an all-time high of $28 trillion. By the time NASA launches its next manned mission, the national debt is expected to be $89 trillion.

Is this space race little more than muscle flexing? As Marina Koren has noted, for “spacefaring nations, impressive feats, whether it’s landing on Mars or on the far side of the moon, will always be seen through the lens of the nation that managed to pull it off.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Dean Cheng, an analyst who focuses on the politics of space, appears to echo Koren’s sentiments. “When you are the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon, that says something about your science and technology, that says something about your industry,” he said.

But the U.S.-China space race goes deeper, quite literally. Muscle flexing is just one part of the equation. Mining is the second part.

Epoch Times Photo
A Long March-4C rocket lifts off from the southwestern Xichang launch center carrying the Queqiao (“Magpie Bridge”) satellite in Xichang, China’s southwestern Sichuan Province on May 21, 2018. This communications relay satellite allows a rover to send images from the far side of the Moon. (China OUT/AFP via Getty Images)

Mining the Moon

To the untrained eye, the moon is little more than an airless, soulless, desolate place. But it’s also a valuable source of building materials, including water, fuel, and oxygen.

In November of last year, a UK-based firm won a European Space Agency contract to develop rather intriguing technology. As Ian Sample, a science journalist, reported at the time, the technology could be used to “convert moon dust and rocks into oxygen, leaving behind aluminum, iron and other metal powders for lunar construction workers to build with.”

If the technology proves to be successful, then we can expect to see extraction facilities being built on the moon. With “oxygen and valuable materials on the surface,” wrote Sample, humans will no longer have to “haul them into space at enormous cost.”

In other words, advances in technology look likely to create a lucrative lunar economy. We are witnessing a new era of lunapolitics, where political interests intersect with economic, exploitative interests.

Ian Crawford, a professor of planetary science and astrobiology at Birkbeck College, London, believes the moon possesses an abundance of raw materials. Because of this, governments have a vested, economic interest in mining the moon.

Take helium-3 (He3), for example. Potentially, in the not-so-distant future, this gas could be used to fuel nuclear fusion power plants. Although there is a limited amount of helium-3 available here, on planet Earth, there is an abundance of it on the moon. In fact, according to scientists in China, the moon’s Helium-3 reserves could provide enough clean energy to power our planet for the next 10,000 years. The value of this gas cannot be emphasized enough.

As analysts at Zephyr Solutions, a leading supplier of compressed gasses, have noted, one ton of the gas “has an energy equivalent to 50 million barrels of oil,” worth somewhere in the region of $3 billion. There may be “more than 1.2 million tons of Helium-3 sitting on the moon” right now, they said.

No wonder China, with the help of Russia, and the United States are engaged in a frantic space race. The poet Carl Sandburg once called the moon a “friend for the lonesome to talk to.” For China and the United States, the moon is less a friend and more a strategic commodity. Not something to be “talked to,” but something to be exploited.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published, among others, by the New York Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, and The Spectator US. He covers psychology and social relations, and has a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation.