China and NASA have found themselves in the middle of an international spat over the moon. The tiff started after NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Beijing’s space program might be planning to conduct military operations on the moon, and bar international access.
Nelson told German newspaper Bild, “We must be very concerned that China is landing on the moon and saying: ‘It’s ours now and you stay out.’”
In response, China said the country has no intention of conducting a hostile takeover of the moon.
“This is not the first time for the chief of NASA to lie through his teeth and smear China,” said Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s foreign minister. “Some U.S. officials have been framing up against and slandering the reasonable and legitimate space activities of China and we firmly oppose that.”
As NASA gears up for its Artemis missions to the moon, the Chinese space program is preparing to land taikonauts on the lunar surface before the end of the decade. According to Bild, China is also planning to develop a “moon base” in cooperation with the Russian space program. NASA’s long-term plans for the Artemis Program include a permanent “base camp” on the lunar surface.
In 2013, China landed its first uncrewed spacecraft on the moon, and has since ramped up its lunar objectives—aiming to send a crew-capable spacecraft there in 2028.
While there may not be direct evidence of a Chinese lunar takeover, Chinese researchers have suggested the development of anti-satellite capabilities in response to Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites.
Last year, the Chinese Space Station was nearly hit by Starlink satellites on two separate occasions, sparking tensions between the U.S. and China. The satellites flew close enough that the station was forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision.
In response to the incidents, the U.S. said: “The activities did not meet the threshold of established emergency collision criteria, emergency notifications were not warranted in either case.”