Bill Nelson, Lori Garver, and How We May Lose the Moon to China


Another Senator Bill Nelson is the administrator of National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He told Bild, July 2, that there was a “new race to space” with China .”

Whether America or the Free World will win the race is a result of Nelson’s political and budgetary battles with Lori Garver, former NASA Deputy Administrator. This has been going on for ten years.

Garver tells her side of the story in “Escaping Gravity: My Quest To Transform NASA And Launch a New Space Age,” her memoir. This was one of this summer’s literary events on space policy.

Garver, who served in several planning positions at NASA during the Clinton administration, became the chief space policy adviser for former President Barack Obama, led his NASA transition team, and served as NASA deputy administrator from 2009 to 2013.

If you’re a liberal feminist Democrat Space geek (and many are), Garver is a thrilling rollercoaster ride of fights and resentments towards NASA’s male-dominated culture and former President George W. Bush Constellation Moon Program and then-Senator Bill Nelson.

Nelson was NASA’s senator appropriator. He opposed Garver’s main legacy of using NASA’s budget to help the growth of a U.S. privat space industry, currently led by Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corporation.

But about China–one the most contentious topics during her time at NASA-Garver slips into a dark hole.

Recall that in 2009, Obama made an early push to convince China to engage in a “partnership.” In mid-2009, White House science adviser John Holdren spoke of using China’s manned space capsule to take U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in the wake of the impending retirement of the space shuttle.

During Obama’s November 2009 visit to Beijing, the Chinese communist regime rejected his appeals for a broad partnership but agreed to his ambition to begin manned space cooperation, as declared in a joint statement:

” The United States and China are looking forward to increasing their space science cooperation, and beginning a dialog on human space flight. … Both sides welcome reciprocal visits of the NASA Administrator and the appropriate Chinese counterpart in 2010.”

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China will inevitably agree. At the 2009 Moscow Airshow, Russian sources told this analyst that Russia did not “sell” its space station technology to China at the time. The main explanation for the close similarity between early Chinese space station concepts and the Russian MIR space station was that Chinese engineers invited to Russian space companies as “interns” in the late 1990s had stolen that technology.

Visitors take photos in front of the Shenzhou-7 spacecraft module during a “China’s First Spacewalk Mission” exhibition at the Hong Kong Science Museum on Dec. 6, 2008. (SAMANTHA SIN/AFP via Getty Images)

One can only imagine the joy felt by Chinese space leaders and military commanders at the thought of stealing gigabytes ISS technology.

Garver offers no more insight into Obama’s China space strategy.

Did Obama really believe that manned space cooperation would reduce the Chinese Communist Party’s imperial ambitions? Did he believe that doing so would diminish the strong China-threat motivation that helped drive the 2004 NASA Constellation program to return Americans to the moon by 2020, making it easier to cancel?

Garver details the budgetary and programmatic failings that justified Obama’s April 2010 cancellation of Constellation.

It was meant as an attack. Garver’s autobiography states that Senator Nelson criticised President Obama for cutting the Moon program. He said it could lead to the United States falling behind other countries in exploration of space–most importantly Russia and China .”

But Garver doesn’t mention the antithesis of Obama and NASA’s pro China hopes, Virginia Republican Congressman Frank Wolf who was the chairperson for the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funded NASA.

Wolf was a strong critic of the CCP and opposed Obama’s plan to establish manned space cooperation. To the enduring ire of space policy liberals, Wolf essentially made it illegal in his 2011 “Wolf Amendment” that forbade using NASA funds to cooperate with China.

Perhaps her anger at Garver’s refusal to mention Wolf in her memoirs is a sign of her bitterness.

But the measure of Obama-era enthusiasm for cooperating with China in space is indicated by the advocacy of Obama’s NASA administrator and former astronaut, Charles Bolden, who granted an “exclusive interview” to CCP propaganda department-controlled China Daily, published on Jan. 14, 2019, calling for the lifting of the Wolf Amendment.

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But let’s return to Nelson’s Bild interview, in which he expressed concern about China’s plans to land on the moon. He said that the People’s Republic [of China] now owns the moon. Everyone else should remain out .”

Indeed, in December 2018, Chinese Academy of Sciences expert Bao Weimin described China’s intention to establish an “Earth-Moon Economic Zone” with a $10 trillion annual economic output by 2045.

This will represent a “giant leap” for the CCP. As it rejected an Obama-defined “partnership” in 2009 but tried to rope Obama into a China-defined partnership in 2012-2013, the CCP will likely only accept U.S. subordination to a Chinese-controlled dominion of the moon.

Bao said that the Chinese area would need a transport system. And in November 2020, China Daily reported that the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) concluded that China would need 60 of its 50-ton-to-the-moon Long March-9 space launch vehicles from 2030 to 2035, or 10 a year.

Consider this warning about the CCP’s intentions. CASC may also have a more efficient reusable first-stage version of the Long March-9 after 2035.

But before 2030, Chinese astronauts may reach the moon on the less complex 25-ton-to-the-moon Long March-5DY SLV. These two are necessary for a maned moon mission. They can also transport supplies to the early manned outposts.

A partial model of the Chinese space station is on display at the Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai, China, on Nov. 6, 2018. (WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

In comparison, a June 20 Ars Technica article by Brian Berger cites leaked NASA documents showing China only plans to build 11 of its $1 billion space launch system (SLS) 50-ton-to-the-moon heavy lift SLVs by 2034, and to send the first manned Lunar Habitat to the moon in 2034.

By these measures, NASA and its Artemis program are strolling to the moon while China may be preparing to “blitz” the moon, with the likely intention of occupying choice locations in its southern regions that would have the best prospects for lunar ice water, key resources, and strategic advantage before the United States and its 20 Artemis Accord partners.

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Had Obama renounced his illusions about China and made peace in space with China, the world would have been better positioned to resist the CCP’s dominance on the moon and to support its goals of hegemony in the Earth.

The United States may have built a moon base a decade earlier than China. NASA’s expensive and contractor-built Constellation rockets might have failed if NASA had used much more powerful, less expensive private launchers. This was possible thanks to Garver’s private sector space reforms.

NASA is in an economic and political battle with China. Can it accelerate the use of Musk’s SpaceX Starship–which is more efficient (cheap) because it is reusable and potentially can lift 100 tons to the Moon–to succeed the SLS as the primary NASA transport to the moon?

But Nelson needs to make an even stronger case to President Joe Biden and the American people that NASA’s moon programme deserves better funding. Funding that can be maintained regardless of whether Russia escalates its war on Europe or the CCP chooses to invade democratic Taiwan to force Asia into war.

Sounding the alarm over the CCP’s space plans is a great start.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Rick Fisher, a Senior Fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

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