We need more international cooperation towards space exploration

Fletcher Smith, Reporter

Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first people to ever set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. These two men not only represented the tens of thousands of people who worked on the Apollo mission, but also the greatest victory of the United States over the Soviet Union in the Space Race.

On Nov. 23, 2020, China launched an unmanned mission to the moon, with the main goal being to bring back rocks drilled from beneath the lunar surface; the first time lunar samples will be brought to Earth in decades. If successful, the mission could set up the Chinese space program to bring back samples from Mars and increase their number of exploration missions.

After nearly half a century, no country has returned people to the lunar surface. The focus had turned towards low-orbit missions that study the Earth from above, as well as International Space Station (ISS) missions, with the United States running a great amount of these operations.

However, in the last several years, nations like China have increased their number of space missions and have even planned to return humans to the moon, causing the U.S. to become fearful of losing their superiority in space.

“The United States must remain first in space in this century as in the last, not just to propel our economy and secure our nation but, above all, because the rules and values of space, like every great frontier, will be written by those who have the courage to get there first and the commitment to stay,” said Vice President Mike Pence in 2019 when announcing the U.S.’s plan to send humans back to the moon by 2024

This commitment to outperform China stretches beyond simply creating better and more efficient technology. In 2011, the U.S. enacted the China exclusion policy of NASA, which banned NASA from working with China due to fears of espionage and stealing ideas to create better missiles. The policy also forbids Chinese astronauts from travelling to the ISS. This policy has completely isolated China from nearly every space agency across the globe.

Despite this, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) has done extremely well on its own, as they completed the first soft landing on the far side of the moon in 2019 and have sent several astronauts into space over the last 15 years.

The growing tensions between China and the U.S. over the dominance of space is dangerous and irresponsible, and the impending creation of a new Space Race should not be what drives the space programs of the world like it did nearly six decades ago. As seen with the CNSA, NASA, and other space agencies and businesses over the last few years, tremendous strides in space exploration are possible without serious help from others. But they do not need to, and should not, be made alone.

The accomplishments made by agencies like CNSA and NASA in the last few years may be trumped by even greater feats if the two were to have worked together on missions like the soft lunar landing or the development of reusable rockets. With the combined budget, technology, and intelligence of these two agencies, there may already be people living and conducting research on the moon.

These are merely hypotheticals, but this almost-certain proposal goes to show that, if nations were to put aside their own self-interests when discussing space exploration and plan instead on cooperative missions, with all of their combined resources, the potential achievements would be astounding.

Politics and space exploration are not meant to be mixed. Space is not to be conquered, or to be used as a battleground, but to be explored and studied. Understanding the complexities of the ever-expanding vacuum surrounding our planet has led to incredible feats over the last century: we have discovered and learned about the explosive birth of our universe by looking hundreds of millions of years into the past, taken images of black holes and supernovas thousand of light years away, and sent people to the moon.

We have also encountered new problems, like trying to understand the dark matter and energy that holds our universe together, searching for intelligent life on planets hundreds of trillions of miles away, and sending humans to Mars. These problems may not be solved in our lifetimes, but if there is a way for humanity to accomplish them, we will eventually find a way to do so.

When we land the first person on Mars, or discover the first signs of extraterrestrial life, it should not be done for the glory of one nation or as a display of its superiority over all others, but for the glory of mankind, and to show our ability to triumph over our differences in the name of curiosity and exploration.