By Namrata Goswami
China’s space ambitions and goals are unique. Unlike the space rivalry between the United States and the former USSR, which was mostly about “who got where first” (prestige and status) as well as geopolitical rivalry, China’s space ambition is to harness the vast resources available in space to benefit and sustain its economic rise.
When Sputnik burst into the skies on October 4, 1957, it took the United States by surprise. For one, the U.S. considered itself to be the leaders in science and technology; for another, the U.S believed that the USSR was a poor, peasant-based economy, incapable of cutting-edge space technology. Sputnik was a shocker as it showcased the Soviet Union’s high-end technology, skyrocketing its international prestige and aggravating U.S. fears that the USSR could now use rockets to transfer inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to space, from where the U.S would be an easy target. Almost all space endeavors after the Sputnik moment between the U.S and USSR were informed by prestige-seeking behavior, jealousy, and Cold War rivalry.
Unlike Cold War geopolitics and space politics, China’s space program, which achieved technological prowess in the early 21st century, is venturing beyond simply seeking prestige and status. While it is prestigious to show off one’s technological capabilities in space, China’s space program exhibits a long term vision to explore space for harnessing resources from the moon, asteroids, and establishing a permanent presence.
There are three areas in particular where China’s space activities are focused at this point in time: Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP), lunar and asteroid mining, and establishing its own space station.
Picture: China National Space Administration [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons