In an interview this weekend with the German newspaper Bild, NASA administrator Bill Nelson warned that China is preparing to lay claim to key areas of the Moon.
“There is a new race to space – this time with China,” Nelson told Bild in an interview published Saturday. Bild also noted China plans to work alongside Russia to establish a base on the Moon and that the base could be finished by 2035 and able to carry out experiments by 2036.
Bild noted the south pole of the Moon is expected to be highly contested as key water deposits are suspected in that region. Such deposits could be used to produce rocket fuel.
“We must be very concerned that China is landing on the moon and saying: It’s ours now and you stay out,” Nelson said, adding that “China’s space program is a military space program.”
“What do you think is happening on the Chinese space station?” Nelson said, referring to China’s Tiangong space station. “They learn there how to destroy other people’s satellites.”
The first pieces of the Tiangong space station were launched into orbit in April of last year, and the rest of the station remains under construction, with the next component section scheduled to launch on July 23, according to Space News.
Nelson is not the first U.S. official to warn of Chinese plans to develop weapons to destroy the satellites of other nations. In April, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) described various potential Chinese space-based weapons including the Shijian-17 satellite, which is equipped with a robotic arm the agency believes could be used to grab and damage other satellites.
China has claimed systems like the Shijian-17 satellite are to be used to help clean up space debris and denied the systems will be weaponized.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lijian Zhao denied Nelson’s latest claims about Chinese plans to seize control of the moon. In a Monday press conference, Zhao said, “This is not the first time that the NASA administrator has lashed out at China in disregard of facts. Some US officials have spoken irresponsibly to misrepresent the normal and legitimate space endeavors of China. China firmly rejects such remarks.”
“China always advocates the peaceful use of outer space, opposes the weaponization of and arms race in outer space, and works actively toward building a community with a shared future for mankind in the space domain,” Zhao added. “China’s space exploration is about meeting our legitimate national economic, social, scientific and security needs. Progress in China’s space endeavors is achieved through our own independent efforts. Our rights, interests and achievements shall not be unfairly questioned or discredited.”