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Congress’s Hearing on Space Asks, ‘Who Will Control the Moon?’

A hearing at the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Jan. 17, meant to review the progress of the Artemis program, seemed to indicate a rather hysterical climate with regard to countering China’s obvious progress in space exploration. Panel chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) warned, “The country that lands on the Moon next will be able to set the precedent for whether later lunar activities are open or restricted.”

Last week NASA announced delays to its Artemis program over safety concerns, a day after the U.S. made its first attempt since to land a robot on the lunar surface. The attempt failed, due to technical problems. Artemis 1 had taken an unmanned Orion spacecraft around the Moon. Artemis 2, planned for this year to take the same trip but with a crew of four, has now been pushed back to 2025. And Artemis 3, previously slated for 2025, will be pushed back a year in its attempt to land humans on the Moon’s South Pole.

While some NASA representatives expressed confidence that they would be able to keep that schedule, others were skeptical. Senior NASA official Catherine Koerner told the congressional panel that the life-support systems on the Artemis 2 spacecraft were proving to be “more difficult and challenging to develop,” but felt that the new time frame would be sufficient to address all technical issues.

Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin was more skeptical and believed the Artemis program was “excessively complex and unrealistically priced,” adding it was “highly unlikely to be completed in a timely manner, even if successful.” He felt that it was “unacceptable” that the U.S. and its partners would not be on the Moon when others were, given the importance of those who got there first setting rules and the architecture. Griffin, who was the devil’s advocate at this hearing, is totally opposed to the Artemis program as he feels the U.S. should begin focussing on a lunar base, also with the view of countering China and Russia, which he realizes are clearly going there.

This month the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies issued a report, “Securing Cislunar Space and the First Island Off the Coast of Earth.” The paper urges that the U.S. build an “architecture” on the Lagrange point between Earth and the Moon which would enable “an ability to monitor and respond to irresponsible or threatening behavior.” Apparently, the U.S. may have more than a “moon gap” on its hands; it could even be a “Lagrange point gap.”