Experts Say We’re Running Out Of Space In Space Between Earth And The Moon
The race to get humans back to the Moon, and eventually, Mars has led to a precarious situation concerning the new frontier of space real estate. This has some concerned that it could lead to future tensions between Earth's superpowers, and possibly end in war.
Some will remember the first race to the Moon between the United States and the Soviet Union back in the 1960s. The US prevailed in that scenario, as astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins successfully landed on the lunar surface on July 16, 1969. Several more missions were conducted after that, with the last Apollo mission carrying a human beyond near-Earth Orbit occuring in December of 1972. Now, with expectations of going beyond the Moon, a new race has developed. This time around, the real estate around the Moon is becoming just as valuable as the dusty lunar surface, and it's beginning to get a bit crowded.
Some are estimating that there could be as many as 100 lunar missions over the next decade. This time, however, the race does not only include two superpowers, the United States and China, but multiple private companies as well. With so many vying for an advantageous spot in space. the space between Earth and the Moon could become a hot spot for geopolitical conflict.
"We're already seeing this competing rhetoric between the U.S. government and the Chinese government," remarked Laura Forczyk, Executive Director of Astralytical, a space consulting firm in Atlanta, Georgia, in an interview with NBC News. "The U.S. is pointing to China and saying, 'We need to fund our space initiatives to the moon and cislunar space because China is trying to get there and claim territory.' And then Chinese politicians are saying the same thing about the United States."
Private companies, such as Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, and other nations are also working toward taking humans to the Moon. This has led experts to predict that the area between Earth and the surface of the Moon, known as cislunar space, to become very important and crowded over the next decade or so.
Kaitlyn Johnson, Deputy Director and Fellow of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told NBC News, "During the Cold War, the space race was for national prestige and power. Now, we have a better understanding of the kind of benefits that operating in cislunar space can bring countries back home."
With the space between Earth and the Moon becoming such a hotbed, it has led many to become concerned that it could lead to tensions similar to those that existed between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Some may wonder what the big deal is, being space is such an expansive area. The issue is that the area everyone will be aiming for is actually fairly limited. Countries and companies will be placing spacecraft in specific orbits, and that area can be filled up fast. It can be thought of like having busy shipping lanes while most of the ocean's surface remains vacant.
While the Cold War may have been about national pride, this new race is about much more. Other missions have given a glimpse of what resources are out there, such as ice deposits on the moon to precious metals on asteroids. There is also the fact that many will need acreage on the moon to build base stations as a go-between for missions to Mars and beyond.
Jim Myers, Senior Vice President of the Civil Systems Group at The Aerospace Corporation, says that if humans want to establish a presence on the moon, it will need to be done with safety, sustainability, and transparency being prioritized. He added, "Those elements have to be there. Unless we do this in a very thoughtful way, unless we plan, we're going to run into all sorts of troubles."