Sheldon said: “If the US pulls out early, Japan will have nothing to offer in 10 years’ time when the US wants to go on a mission, because the International Space Station is the only manned space flight program Japan is involved with and their expertise will literally be retired. The same could go for ESA, and also for Russia.”
Pace wants the US to change tack and set its sights back on the moon with other space agencies. “The advantage of the moon is that it allows for people to come in at different price points: you can come in at a high level and build a lunar base or facility, or come in with a small rover or experiment. It has more opportunities for countries at different levels of development,” he said.
Politically, it means the US would be in the center of things, and able to influence the rules, on mining, for example. “If China goes up there and starts mining, will the US want to go back, or will it still see it as been there, done that?” said Jill Stuart at the London School of Economics.
Moltz said now is the time to start talking about guidelines: “Countries with lunar aims would be well-served to begin talking about consensual guidelines for settling the moon and engaging in mining and other commercial activities, if they want to avoid future conflicts.”
Where would that leave China? The Chinese are excluded from partnering with NASA on human space missions, and Pace does not see that changing any time soon. “China is not the Soviet Union, but nonetheless the political relationship is still fraught. I don’t think the political conditions are right for a major human space program, but I can imagine a long term multi-lateral effort with a lot of other countries that meets the Chinese on the moon.”
Ian Crawford, an advocate for lunar exploration and professor of planetary science at Birkbeck College, University of London, pointed to the Global Exploration Roadmap, an agreement among 12 spacefaring nations that sets priorities for space exploration.
“What we must avoid in the 21st century is another Cold War-type space race,” he said. “If we are going to explore space we ought to be doing it in a manner that brings nations together rather than divides them. We got a lot out of the last space race, but for the 21st century we want a more positive, collaborative model. Competition is good up to a point, but really intense national rivalries between China and the west in the 21st century? That is not something we want to see.”