Beijing's space program has achieved "enormous success" over the past decade, agency chief Bill Nelson acknowledges
China may try to gain control of the most resource-rich locations on the Moon if it wins the competition against the US for Earth's only planetary-mass, NASA administrator Bill Nelson has said.
"It is a fact: we're in a space race," Nelson said in an interview with Politico on Sunday.
"And it is true that we better watch out that they [China] don't get to a place on the moon under the guise of scientific research. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they say, 'Keep out, we're here, this is our territory,'" he warned.
The problem is that "there are only so many places on the south pole of the moon that are adequate for what we think, at this point, for harvesting water and so forth," the head of the US space agency added.
As a justification for his claim, he cited the Beijing's conduct on Earth. "If you doubt that, look at what they did with the Spratly Islands," the South China Sea archipelago that is contested by other nations but where the Chinese military has established bases, Nelson said.
In 2019, China became the first country to perform a soft landing on the far side of the Moon as part of its Chang'e 4 robotic mission. It was later able to deliver lunar samples back to Earth. Beijing says it expects to put a man on the moon before 2030 and, later, to establish a scientific research station there.
In the past few years, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) has also successfully sent an orbiter and a rover to Mars, and launched its national space station into Earth orbit.
"China within the last decade has had enormous success and advances" in its space program, Nelson acknowledged. However, he still expressed confidence that NASA has what it takes to win the race again and fulfill its set goal of sending a crewed mission to the Moon in 2025.
Beijing has on numerous occasions denied US accusations of having an insidious agenda behind its space program. In August, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that "outer space is not a wrestling ground, but an important field for win-win cooperation." The exploration of the cosmos is "humanity's common endeavor and should benefit all," Zhao said, adding that China was committed to the peaceful use of space and to cooperation with other countries.