This summer, China will attempt to launch an unmanned rover to the surface of Mars. Named Tiawen-1 (which means, “Quest for Heavenly Truth”), the China National Space Administration (CNSA) plans to launch the craft to the surface of the Red Planet in July.
If successful, China would become the third (behind the United States and former Soviet Union) to land a craft on the Martian surface. In the last few years, the Chinese space program has made momentous gains — with still more on the way. In fact, China’s leadership has announced that dominating space is a key priority for its “China Dream” to be achieved.
Meanwhile, in the United States, we are struggling to get off the ground.
In 2011, NASA abandoned its indigenous manned spaceflight capability entirely. America was made to rely on Russia to launch its astronauts sporadically into space. Thankfully, private space companies, like SpaceX, stepped in to fill that void. Recently, SpaceX successfully placed two astronauts aboard the ISS.
But Elon Musk and other space start-up companies have faced an uphill battle. First, they’ve had to break through the stifling layers of bureaucracy to win contracts. Then, these firms have suffered extreme skepticism from agencies that prefer doing business with bigger firms, like Lockheed Martin (even though these smaller firms lower costs significantly).
Finally, organizations like SpaceX must contend with the uncertainty of whether or not the U.S. government will remain interested and invested in the goal of continuous manned spaceflight. America’s private sector will be key to keep the country competitive with the Chinese juggernaut.
But only relying on our private sector alone is insufficient. What’s needed as a $1 trillion commitment to the overall endeavor of getting American astronauts back to the moon and to Mars within the decade — as well as a massive commitment from both the public and private sectors to build colonies on the moon and Mars before the Chinese can.
Anything less will cede the high ground to China. As this occurs, the newly-minted U.S. Space Force must become the best-funded branch of the U.S. military so that it can defend our critical satellites and build space weapons to protect the United States from the nuclear weapons threat that rivals like China, Russia, North Korea and Iran pose.
The Chineses Communist Party views space as the ultimate strategic high ground, so the Chinese are pushing both their government and private sector to embrace space dominance with due haste. If China can dominate the strategic high ground of space, it can rule the Earth below. China’s Communist leaders believe they are in a space race with the United States and they plan on winning it. Despite the American advantages in space, though, the Chinese are quickly catching up. It will not be long before the Chinese manage to beat the Americans in space at this rate.
This is largely because the Chinese have an integrated, long-term, strategic goal for space whereas the Americans do not: They seek to dominate the orbits around Earth, control the vital resources on the moon and on asteroids in the solar system, and be the first to land human beings on Mars.
For the Chinese, this is not only a matter of national pride, but it is also considered yet another component in their vision to replace the United States as the world’s pre-eminent power by 2049, the hundredth-year anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s victory in the Chinese Civil War.
Under President Trump, for the first time in decades, the United States has a leader with a viable vision for space dominance. The next five years will be crucial to determining whether the United States or China will win the new space race.
The Chinese plan to use space to rule the Earth. Should they be successful, the United States would be nothing more than a middle-tier power, like France today. If America does not make space great again, China will paint the stars Red and deprive us of access to this important strategic domain. We would become prisoners, forced to kowtow to China for the promise of limited access to this promising and vast strategic domain, which would be the death of American global leadership and vision.
• Brandon J. Weichert is the author of the forthcoming book, “Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower” (Republic Book Publishers). He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.