The Dark Side of the Far Side

Posted May 13, 2024

I was fascinated by a May 4 article by CNN reporter Ashley Strickland.  In it, she writes about the competition among countries to explore the moon, particularly the far side — the side we never see from Earth due to the moon’s synchronous orbit.  For years, the race between the United States and China for hegemony in space has been underreported.  Strickland brought some much-needed light to the building tensions.

So far, only China has successfully landed on the far side of the moon and is about to do so again with the May 3 launch of its unmanned Chang’e-6 mission.  This time, China plans to bring back samples.  They did so in 2020 with the return of a spacecraft carrying samples from the near side, something no one had done since 1976 when the former Soviet Union brought back some samples in an unmanned mission.  The U.S. last did so on the final manned Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The near side and far side of the moon are far different.  The far side’s crust is thicker, and the terrain is more rugged.  The craters are deeper.  It is believed to have caves suitable as shelters for future astronauts or settlers.  It’s also where scientists believe water is present, and clues to the true origin of the moon can be deciphered.

While that’s all fascinating, what’s more important is China’s strategic interest in the plethora of rare minerals on the moon and its perfect positioning as a staging pad for exploration of Mars or deep space.

China is undoubtedly ahead of the U.S. in this new space race, exacerbated by the seemingly never-ending delays of NASA projects (like last week’s aborted launch of the manned Starliner).  It was further complicated for the U.S. by China’s and Russia’s pledge to join forces in exploring the moon and manning a space station to replace the ISS — the space station currently maintained by a joint U.S. and Russian alliance (from which Russia has announced it plans to withdraw).

Will the U.S. catch up?  Or will China extend its hegemony to include our nearest celestial neighbor?  Will exploration and exploitation of the moon become a new battlefield?

I explored this in my fictional novel, Dragon on the Far Side of the Moon, where the U.S. and China battle for lunar dominance.  Could it be my fiction is becoming a reality?  Read it and decide for yourself.

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