Two weeks ago, I reported on the alliance between China and Russia to build a permanent base on the Moon they call the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). While a specific timetable has yet to be laid out, there is an aspect of this project worth adding to my earlier comments.
According to press reports, the ILRS will be built at the Moon’s south pole where ice is abundant and can help support human habitation. That is not a surprise. We’ve known about the ice for quite some time, although only China has actually landed near it. Equally important is the news that the stations will initially be built and maintained by robots and autonomous machines. Human inhabitation will come later.
China has proven its prowess to successfully explore the moon without human participation and bring back samples. This past year, China successfully landed a rover on the surface of the Moon and had it return to Earth with the first samples of the lunar surface in more than 50 years. Anyone who doubts China’s ability to build a station with robots is only fooling themselves. With Russia and its technology added to China’s efforts and money, China’s likelihood of success is significantly enhanced.
China and Russia have said in press releases that their purposes are to promote peace and exploration of our nearest celestial neighbor. Whether the United States can trust them or not may be an important question. Since 2011, NASA and White House policies prohibit the United States from cooperating on any space projects with their Chinese counterparts, unless Congress approves it in advance. No such approval has been extended, much less even considered. So with the upcoming decommissioning of the International Space Station and the U.S./Russia partnership in operating coming to an end, Russia now has a new ally in space – China.
My latest novel, Dragon on the Far Side of the Moon, is a story about China colonizing the Moon using robots and artificial intelligence to establish a base on the far side where it is impossible to observe from Earth. While my book is a thriller intended first and foremost to entertain readers, I also further notions of the future that are plausible, if not probable. In this case, it’s fascinating to see that China, working with Russia, may indeed make the fiction I’ve written about robotics and AI on the Moon the reality we’ll all soon see.
Of course, the dependence on robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence has its risks and limitations even for those who create it. That tale I tell in Dragon on the Far Side of the Moon may be the next chapter of this unfolding story.