Robert Bigelow is not a small name in the space world. His company Bigelow Aerospace is a pioneer of inflatable spacecraft, and the company has made waves with its plans for an inflatable, orbiting space hotel (not coincidentally, Bigelow’s fortunes come from his ownership of the Budget Suites motel chain). So when he says something about the future of space travel, we listen. On the other hand, when he says that China is planning to take over the moon circa 2025, we listen, but with skepticism.
At the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, Bigelow laid out a timeline of a wild-west-style Chinese takeover of the moon, calling China “the new gunslinger in Dodge.” Bigelow’s timeline notes China’s increasing success in space projects, up to and including last month’s launch of the Tiangong Space Station module. He further declares that the moon’s abundance in helium-3, a possible future fuel, but more importantly that “claiming” the moon would be a major glory moment for China. The timeline suggests that China will complete surveys of the moon, withdraw from the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and formally claim the moon as part of China. Bigelow even suggested diverting 10 percent of the defense budget–some $60 billion–to preventing this moon theft.
So, we are skeptical. For lots of reasons. First, there’s no evidence that China has any designs on such a plan, which of course they couldn’t execute anytime soon, because their space technology is years, possibly decades, behind Russia’s and the European Space Agency’s. (Behind us, too, but we’ve sort of taken ourselves out of that game.) For another thing, there’s no guarantee that the moon’s raw materials will actually be of any use for energy here on Earth. MSNBC contacted an expert, Dean Cheng of the “conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation,” who said anything “inflammatory” like claiming possession of the moon is “not likely.” And Bigelow may be a private space agency pioneer and a damn fine budget hotelier, but the guy does not exactly have a background in international relations.