The New Space Race – Starting Line: The Moon?

Share

The Next Stage of the Space Race

The first Space Race culminated with a shot to the moon.  The New Space Race will start there.  The direction of the American space program, from a public perspective, has kind of zigged and zagged since then.  With the end of the Apollo program, our involvement with the moon seemed to be over.  Our focus shifted to building our satellite networks and an embattled ICBM defense shield.  Then, when 9/11 happened, it seems space exploration, along with a lot of other similar programs, was put on the back burner.  

We ended the Space Shuttle program a few years later and made the switch to public/private partnership for our new spaceflight program.  At first, it seemed we were scaling back exploration.  Most of the news that made it to the mainstream public was about the ISS.  In more recent years, however, the idea of exploring new worlds with manned missions has become necessary. 

Our climate is changing.  And if the models are correct, within only a couple of generations, life here on Earth is not going to be much fun.  It’s hard to ignore the correlation between increased interest in otherworldy exploration worldwide and fears of unsustainability here on Earth.  However, it would be foolish to assume that environmental concerns are the main impetus behind this 

The Race to the… er… Starting Line?

Until recently, most of the chatter has been about exploring Mars and possibly building a habitat there.  That all changed this year, however, when both the United States and China announced plans to build bases on the moon.  Now, I’m not trying to stir the international pot here – our senior officials are doing quite well at that on their own – but we aren’t exactly playing nice with China at the moment regarding trade.  Unfortunately, it’s not hard to imagine those tensions spilling over into other areas.  A new space race from the moon to Mars isn’t too far fetched.

Details regarding China’s plans are, not surprisingly, sketchy.  However, the most recent reports (from April) make it clear that the Chinese plan to build their base near the moon’s south pole.  The research base is expected to be a reality in “about ten years,” according to Xinhua, the Chinese state news.  

This lines up with the timeline laid out in the United States’ own announcement back in late March.  Vice President Mike Pence put the pressure on NASA officials.  In what has become a significant policy speech, the Vice President blasted NASA’s timetable for returning to the moon.  Then Pence cut four years off of it, stating, “If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will.”

What NASA’s Plan Looks Like

NASA's updated timetable for a lunar base.

NASA’s updated timetable for a lunar base.

The graphic above outlines a timeline of events that need to occur in order for NASA to meet its new objectives.  There are a lot of obstacles that stand in the way of these things all happening on time, but none of them are necessarily insurmountable. 

Funding

The report NASA released left out the part about how much this whole Artemis mission series will cost.  However, Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, requested an additional $1.6 billion dollars to get the project started.  This represents a significant boost in NASA’s budget, which would rise from roughly $6 billion to about $8 billion if Bridenstine gets his wish.  

Contractors

Slow pacing from contractors continues to plague the Artemis project.  NASA’s lunar mission currently relies on Boeing’s SLS rocket system.  The SLS system was more than likely a target of Pence’s comments regarding contractors.  Boeing and NASA both received criticism for pouring money into the system last fall.  Much of that criticism centered on the space agency rewarding Boeing for underperforming.  

The Boeing SLS on the launchpad.

The Boeing SLS on the launchpad.

Nevertheless, NASA will likely use the SLS for the Artemis missions.   SpaceX developed its own heavy rocket system, the Falcon Heavy, which has been successful.  The Falcon Heavy won’t work as it is for Artemis, however.

Like It or Not, the Race Is Back On

Until this year, the buzz in space exploration has been about the so-called “Billionaire Space Race.”  I hate to say it, boys and girls, but now the governments are involved again.  Of course, there are pros and cons to peaceful international competition.  If you’re reading this on a smartphone, you should know exactly what I’m talking about.  On the other hand, competition can cause also cause distrust and hinder cooperation.

For now, neither the United States nor the Chinese have indicated they’re in any kind of race.  The writing on the wall, however, is starting to read that way.  Within a month, both countries announced plans to put a base on the moon.  Both countries have indicated the same desired timeline.  This week, the Trump administration escalated the brewing trade war with China by going after Huawei.  It’s not hard to see how this could all equal a New Space Race from the moon to Mars.

This time, however, the moon isn’t the real destination.  It’s just the starting line for the real race – which will be to Mars.  

Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

You may also like...

-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.