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The US is the global leader when it comes to space, but China is catching up – and fast. Recently it has carried out a number of successful missions, most notably Tianwen-1, its interplanetary sample-return mission to Mars. Beijing has also joined the US in setting its sights on the Moon – announcing a five-year plan along with Russia to jointly build an International Lunar Research Station that would be tended by human crews.
Meanwhile, in low-Earth orbit (LEO), China is rapidly constructing its “Heavenly Palace” – the multi-modular Tiangong space station.
Now, some experts are saying it might be time for the US President to open his arms to China.
Professor John Logsdon, from George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, said: “I think we’re going to see a mixture of cooperation and competition, probably between two blocs – one led by the US and one led by China. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“After all, it was [US versus Soviet] competition that got us to the Moon. There is competition between the US and China for global leadership.”
Joe Biden has been urged to work with China (Image: GETTY)
Washington is still the global leader in space (Image: GETTY)
“Half the time, we complain about [China’s and Russia’s] lack of transparency. But then when they make explicit their plans, we’re not happy either.
“Russia turned to the US in 1993 [to help build the International Space Station] to save their space program. And now I think they are turning to China to do much the same.”
Currently, restrictive legislation makes working with China difficult.
In 2011 Congress passed a law that included an add-on known as the Wolf Amendment which prohibits NASA from using federal funds to engage in direct, bilateral cooperation with the Chinese government.
Prof Logsdon believes a repeal of this bill would mark a good start.
China and Russia have vowed to work together (Image: GETTY)
He added: “It’s a legitimate issue for policy debate and repeating the Wolf Amendment every year in legislation is a convenient way of avoiding that debate.”
For now, Prof Logsdon stated, the US should use diplomatic and scientific channels to test the waters for future work with China, establishing whether any partnership could be mutually beneficial
Bill Nelson, a former senator of Florida and now NASA’s 14th administrator strongly disagrees.
He believes Washington and Beijing are very much in a “space race”.
Mr Neilson told Scientific America: “I think we have a very aggressive China and, I add, [a] thus far successful.
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China is banned from the ISS (Image: GETTY)
Both China and the US have plans to go to the Moon (Image: GETTY)
“They said they’d put up a space station, and they did. [They said they would] bring back lunar samples, and they’ve done so. They are the second nation to robotically land and rove on Mars.
“[And] they plan to put boots on the moon.
“They put it out there and then they usually follow through.
“The Chinese civilian space program is, in reality, their military space program. That’s why I think we are going into a space race with China.”