Russia, China plan moon station in challenge to US lunar program

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Russian and Chinese officials say they will establish a new lunar research station — potentially spurring a new space race as the US prepares for its own moon missions.

The joint Russia-China station would either orbit or be anchored to the moon.

The US plans to return astronauts to the moon — including sending the first woman — by 2024 under former President Donald Trump’s Artemis program.

Space exploration historically has been a matter of national pride and national security, and a rivalry between the US and Russia, particularly during the Cold War.

The US adversaries did not announce a date for their planned station but have benefited from lax regulatory processes in other projects — with Russia last year approving the first effective COVID-19 vaccine in August, months before Western competitors.

The stakes on the moon include not only prestige, but control of mining, including for fuel theorized to be a potential energy and space-exploration boon.

China and Russia previously have joined forces to challenge US global leadership. The large authoritarian countries last month formed plans to conduct naval exercises with Iran, after staging previous war-practices with the anti-US theocracy in 2019.

moon
The joint Russia-China station would either orbit or be anchored to the moon.
AFP via Getty Images

In December, China and Russia buzzed South Korea with a six-plane bomber patrol that prompted Japan to scramble fighter jets.

In recent years, the US applied sanctions to leaders in both countries and frequently criticized alleged human rights abuses. US intelligence officials accused both Russia and China of attempting to influence last year’s US presidential election.

The China-Russia moon station was announced in a Tuesday press release from Roscosmos, Russia’s equivalent of NASA.

Dmitry Rogozin, general director of Roscosmos, and Zhang Kejian, director of China’s National Space Agency, signed a memorandum of understanding  to establish an International Scientific Lunar Station.

The station will be “created on the surface and/or in the orbit of the Moon, designed to carry out multidisciplinary and multipurpose research work, including the exploration and use of the Moon, lunar observations, fundamental research experiments and technology verification with the possibility of long-term unmanned operation with the prospect of a human presence on the moon,” according to the Russian release.

Last month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki indicated that President Biden intends to continue Trump’s plan to return astronauts to the moon, which is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars.

US astronaut Kate Rubins is seen outside the International Space Station during a space walk.
US astronaut Kate Rubins is seen outside the International Space Station during a space walk.
AP

“Through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon — another man and a woman to the Moon, which is very exciting; conduct new and exciting science; prepare for future missions to Mars; and demonstrate America’s values,” Psaki said at a press conference.

“To date, only 12 humans have walked on the Moon; that was half a century ago. The Artemis program, a waypoint to Mars, provides exactly the opportunity to add numbers to that, of course. Lunar exploration has broad and bicameral support in Congress, most recently detailed in the FY2021 omnibus spending bill. And certainly we support this effort and endeavor.”

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