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  • From the U.S.-China trade war,

  • a controversial security law in Hong Kong,

  • building in the South China Sea,

  • to China's global infrastructure projects,

  • there is undeniably a Cold War-like battle

  • for influence on all fronts.

  • And that includes space.

  • We're in a space race today,

  • just as we were in the 1960s

  • and the stakes are even higher.

  • Although China hasn't come close

  • to achieving what the U.S. has, they're catching up.

  • Since 2018, China has launched more rockets into orbit

  • than any other country.

  • In 2019, they became the first to land a rover

  • on the far side of the moon.

  • And in 2020, China released the last satellite

  • in their global navigation satellite system,

  • called Beidou, China's answer to the U.S.-made GPS.

  • Like China's big infrastructure projects here on Earth,

  • their goals are to get a foothold in space technology

  • that will drive profit,

  • make them independent from U.S. technology,

  • get an upper hand in military operations

  • and show superiority on the world stage.

  • With Joe Biden in the White House,

  • experts think space spending could slow,

  • although the Democratic Party has stated

  • that it will continue the goal

  • of sending Americans back to the moon and beyond to Mars.

  • We are launching humans to the moon

  • for the first time since 1972.

  • And that might not be a bad thing.

  • While a Cold War scenario

  • has dangerous political and economic implications,

  • a race to the cosmos, like any good rivalry,

  • could be a huge benefit for space and other industries.

  • If you think that the U.S.-China competition

  • is going to be not just a clash of strategies,

  • but a clash of systems,

  • it's going to be a contest over whether

  • American-style liberal democracy

  • or Chinese-style authoritarian capitalism

  • is best suited to the demands of the 21st century,

  • then it's entirely possible

  • that you could see the United States

  • make investments in infrastructure and education

  • and technological innovation

  • and basic research

  • that it wouldn't otherwise make

  • as a result of that competition.

  • In 1957, the Soviet Union shocked the world

  • by putting the first ever satellite into space, Sputnik 1.

  • There is real military significance to these launchings.

  • The satellite's unanticipated success

  • brought on the American Sputnik crisis,

  • a period of public fear and anxiety

  • in Western nations about the perceived

  • technological gap between the United States

  • and Soviet Union.

  • And so the National Defense Education Act of 1957

  • is passed in response to Sputnik.

  • And it includes major investments

  • in a variety of intellectual pursuits

  • that were considered critical to staying ahead

  • in the Cold War.

  • And so the rise of entire industries like aerospace,

  • the rise of entire regions like Silicon Valley

  • or Orange County, semiconductors, the Internet,

  • a variety of other things that we associate

  • with the rise of the information age,

  • were originally conceived

  • as part of the military industrial complex

  • in the 1950s and 1960s.

  • And let me say that our scientists and engineers,

  • in offering their services to the government in this field,

  • have been generous, patriotic and prompt.

  • And nowhere was government spending

  • more apparent and highly publicized

  • as the space race of the time.

  • In the Eisenhower years and then Kennedy years,

  • the U.S. started pouring money into the space program.

  • By, I think mid-1960s, the U.S. was spending about

  • 4% of its total budget on space.

  • It was the largest percentage of the budget

  • spent on space in American history.

  • And the intense rivalry allowed

  • for some of the biggest accomplishments

  • humanity has ever seen.

  • Including the first living animal to enter space by Russia.

  • The first man to enter space by Russia.

  • And the first probe to land on the moon, also Russia.

  • And so that led to a huge surge in U.S. spending

  • on the space program,

  • which culminated in 1969 with Neil Armstrong

  • and Buzz Aldrin stepping on the moon.

  • The moon landing is considered

  • a conclusion to the space race.

  • And as U.S.-Soviet relations improved, space spending waned.

  • I think that one of the reasons that the U.S.

  • has not been as focused on space

  • is because the end of the Cold War.

  • Since the Apollo program,

  • the NASA budget has hovered around 0.5% to 1%.

  • But in the last few decades,

  • the world has seen the rise of a new power, China.

  • While governed by an authoritarian regime

  • like the USSR was,

  • China also has far more economic strength

  • and greater resources than the Soviet Union ever did.

  • And that worries the U.S.

  • The president has already signed into law

  • the largest NASA budget

  • since the days of the Apollo program.

  • There is very much an ideological challenge.

  • It's sort of a contest over which sort of system,

  • democracy or authoritarian capitalism,

  • will win the day in the 21st century.

  • And I think what American officials

  • fear is that the Chinese will not be content

  • to have second-tier status in a world

  • that is led by the United States and its allies.

  • But space isn't simply a show

  • of technological strength like it was during the Cold War.

  • The space industry is now worth

  • an estimated $345 billion.

  • With technology that we use every day

  • depending on it, like GPS.

  • China started launching an alternative

  • to the American system, called Beidou in 2000.

  • The recently completed version

  • is 20 centimeters more accurate than GPS

  • by some estimates.

  • China's Beidou space program

  • brings prestige and practical benefits,

  • the prestige from announcing their arrival

  • as a power in space similar to the prestige which the US

  • achieved from its first moon landing.

  • The practical benefits, both military and commercial.

  • If you wanna target a missile or a fast-food delivery,

  • you need a GPS system.

  • With its Beidou system,

  • China has its own GPS capability in place.

  • And so independence from U.S. influence

  • on that key part of infrastructure

  • in the information economy.

  • China even opened up

  • the private space industry in 2014

  • in the hope of encouraging competitors

  • to the U.S. private space industry.

  • iSpace was the first private company in China

  • to successfully launch a rocket and satellite

  • into orbit in 2019.

  • And a company called Galaxy Space

  • plans to launch 650 low-Earth orbit satellites

  • similar to SpaceX's Starlink,

  • which will give better, faster internet access

  • to people all over the world.

  • But it's not all about business.

  • I think that for President Xi Jinping,

  • this Chinese space program is hugely important,

  • not just for all the practical applications

  • but also just for prestige.

  • It's important for President Xi to show that

  • China is a superpower.

  • Superpowers have space programs.

  • China will have to prove

  • that they can perform the kind of missions

  • NASA has done and possibly go even further.

  • Like China's recent moon rover, Chang'e-4.

  • Although it was the third country

  • to land a rover on the moon,

  • it was the first to land on the far side of the moon.

  • And China's recently launched Mars rover isn't the first,

  • but it's the first orbiter lander rover all in one mission.

  • China even has a Voyager-like mission

  • in its initial planning stages

  • that will do a flyby of Neptune

  • and then out to explore interstellar space.

  • But more importantly, China will build

  • its own space station,

  • which will serve as an essential tool

  • for tests and research in space

  • and offer an alternative to the International Space Station.

  • When it comes to innovation,

  • China will have some advantages

  • when it comes to directing the entire resources

  • of a state or the entire resources of a society

  • toward some particular technological challenge,

  • AI, for instance.

  • But the cost of that is there is less of an open

  • economic and intellectual ecosystem in China

  • than there is in the United States.

  • There's more inherent dynamism in a society

  • where you have truly open information flows

  • and where innovation is as much

  • a bottom-up, as it is a top-down phenomenon.

  • And so that's not to say that the United States

  • is destined to win the race for AI or 5G

  • or any other technology.

  • I think there's real danger in a lot of these fields.

  • But if the United States puts forth the energy

  • and puts forth the investment that's necessary

  • in these areas, there's no inherent reason

  • that it can't succeed because it is a democracy.

  • And there are signs

  • that China's space program is stumbling.

  • In 2020, a long march 5B rocket scattered debris

  • over Cote d'Ivoire, after an uncontrolled

  • re-entry of the rocket's core stage.

  • This was the largest botch of its kind in years.

  • So the worry is that China is just not that transparent

  • when it comes to this sort of thing.

  • So, was this just a one-off?

  • Was this just something went wrong,

  • or is this just an example

  • of what might be happening going forward?

  • The competition may prove to be too much.

  • China is up against not only a space program

  • with a long and decorated history.

  • But one with more ambitious missions than ever before.

  • The U.S. is now trying to beat China back to the moon

  • to build a lunar base, harvest resources

  • and then use it as a stepping stone to get to Mars.

  • This time when we go to the moon,

  • we're gonna go to stay with a purpose

  • of learning how to live and work on another world

  • so we can take that knowledge and information to Mars.

  • I think that the sense of urgency

  • that we're hearing from the Trump administration

  • about the need to accelerate the Artemis program

  • to get to the moon by 2024,

  • I think part of that

  • is because of the perceived threat from China.

  • So in that sense, I think that having China as

  • a more serious player in space

  • could potentially be good for NASA,

  • good for the American space program.

  • Other NASA projects include a Mars mission

  • equipped with a mini helicopter

  • to fly on the surface of the red planet,

  • another mini helicopter mission planned for Titan,

  • Saturn's largest moon,

  • and the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope,

  • an upgrade to the Hubble Space Telescope

  • whose photographs changed our understanding

  • of the universe as we know it.

  • The ambitions of China and the U.S.

  • may depend on how long their rivalry continues.

  • If history is any lesson, the bigger the rivalry,

  • the further the two space superpowers

  • are likely to push themselves.

  • The overall goal with China's space program,

  • I think, is to match the United States.

  • China does not want to be subordinate to the U.S. on Earth

  • and doesn't want to be subordinate to the U.S. in space.

  • Right now, the plan is to try to narrow the gap.

  • And so if you are looking at this

  • from an American strategic perspective,

  • the concern would be that China may have a jump