Is the U.S. Falling Behind in the Space Race?

Source/Credit: Yutu 2 rover on the dark side of the moon from the China National Space Administration.

As much as we talk about cooperation in space, it is always nice to be the first nation to pass a milestone, be it the first man on the Moon or the first probe of Pluto. The U.S. has plenty of great stories about space travel, as do the Russians, and now the Chinese are creating their own stories. For instance, China’s Yutu 2 rover was the first rover to explore the dark side of the Moon.

Now Politico magazine is worried about China taking the lead in some areas, as well as militarizing space. A recent article, “‘We’re falling behind’: 2022 seen as a pivotal lap in the space race with China,” discussed the race for the moon as well as delays in the U.S. spacecraft to get us there:

A linchpin of the NASA moon effort is the Space Launch System, the Boeing-built mega-rocket that has been beset by years of delay and cost overruns that is finally set to make its maiden test flight in 2022.

The U.S., Russia, and China all have designs on the moon:

The U.S. moon program has been enlisting international partners in the form of the Artemis Accords, which now includes more than a dozen countries. But Russia and China, which are pursuing a lunar research station, are also seeking partners.

We already know that the U.S. hopes to have astronauts on the Moon in 2024, so what are the Russian and Chinese schedules for their projects? It appears the two nations are working on a joint lunar research base scheduled for the 2030s. However, not everyone is convinced this will happen. A Foreign Policy article, “A Chinese-Russian Moon Base? Not So Fast,”voiced skepticism that the two nations can generate sufficient funding, technological know-how, and political unity to pull off such a mission, citing earlier joint attempts, including a Martian mission:

In 2007, China and Russia signed an agreement for “joint Chinese-Russian exploration of Mars,” culminating in a 2011 launch of a Mars orbiter and landing craft. However, the Russian rocket malfunctioned, causing Russian and Chinese spacecraft to come crashing back down to Earth, an embarrassing conclusion to both countries’ first attempt to reach the red planet.

The two nations seems to be even more unified against the U.S. since this Foreign Policy article was published, so anything is possible. However, the U.S. did pretty well in the 1960s and 1970s after initially trailing the Russians, so my money is still on the U.S. in this latest race.