With the development of rocket technology in the 40’s and 50’s it was obvious that humanity would soon try to reach to the Space. However due to the period of tensions between Democratic World (led by USA) and Socialist Block (led by USSR), we now refer to as the Cold War, both Superpowers instead of collaborating for the good of humanity on that matter started to compete. Eventually the US and Soviet Union would scramble for which country would first launch a satellite to orbit the Earth, whose astronauts would land on the Moon first etc. Eventually, due to USSR’s collapse in 1991 the Cold War came to an end, and with it the First Space Race as well.
The 90’s and the beginning of the XXI Century saw Space Agencies from many countries doing joint research on Mir and on International Space Station. Since the end of the Apollo program in 1972 no-one has set foot on the Moon, but unmanned spaceships and rovers are still exploring our Natural Satellite and other worlds, like Mars, as well.
However in the past decade mutual relations between the Powers started to deteriorate. Tension is steadily growing, as 2014’s Russian annexation of Crimea Penninsula was considered unlawful by the ‘Western World’, which imposed sanctions on Russian Federation. Furthermore, for the last few years America is de facto in the state of Trade War with China and implemented bans on Chinese high-tech companies.
The competition between the Powers seems to be more and more visible. The examples of that are most recent rovers on Mars: NASA’s Perserverance and CNSA’s Tianmen 1 which both launched in July of 2020. American landing on the Moon as a part of Artemis Program is scheduled for 2024 (which is unrealistic, as it was scheduled before COVID), and the works on apprioprate rocket and drive continue, while China is also planning to launch a manned space mission to the Moon in 2030’s. Taking some of the difficulties into account, like emergence of a global epidemic and constant funds shortages, it becomes obvious that by 2024 NASA won’t have sent its astronauts to the Moon. Moreover, some of the equipment needed for the project is still being developed and tested. This means, that there’s a chance of China being the first country to send astronauts to the Moon since Apollo program.
As International Space Station – home to astronauts from NASA, ESA, Roscosmos and others is steadily approaching the end of its mission, a question arises on the horizon: what Station will eventually replace it, and which Space Agency will be first to do so. The Country which first finishes building it most probably will make it available for others on their terms. For example, if PRC along with Russia manages to do it, then there’s a huge chance that during negotation of the terms on which American or European astronauts would gain access to the station tensions between those countries will rise even more.
On the other side there are commercial organizations like SpaceX or Blue Origin also looking to reinforce their presence in Space. 10 years ago those companies hardly had such level of importance and recognition as today. Recently those two were battling for a contract for a Lunar lander intended for the Artemis program. When Nasa after changing the details of contract choose SpaceX’s project, Blue Origin’s founder Jeff Bezos filed a lawsuit against the agency. Blue Origin eventually lost the case earlier this month.
To conclude, Global Superpowers – USA and China continue to compete against each other on many fields: technological, economic, diplomatic, with Space exploration being another proof of their rivalry. However, both countries’ leadership draw conclusions from the Cold War and understand, that they can’t allow mutual relations to deteriorate to the point of armed conflict. Recently, U.S. President Joe Biden held a virtual meeting with China’s Xi Jinping, during which they stated, that despite differences both countries want to avoid open conflict between each other. “”As I’ve said before, it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure the competition between our two countries does not veer into conflict, either intended or unintended. Just simply straightforward competition,” – said American President to his Chinese counterpart during the summit. Even during the Cold War both USA and USSR agreed on demilitarising the Space and halting nuclear tests there. The competition between both Superpowers or between private companies sometimes is a sign of rivalry or bad relations, however in this case it may also be considered a driving force, which speeds up development in the area. When Chinese Tianwen 1 succesfully landed on the Red Planet, NASA Administrator congratulated on success: “Congratulations to CNSA’s #Tianwen1 team for the successful landing of China’s first Mars exploration rover, #Zhurong! Together with the global science community, I look forward to the important contributions this mission will make to humanity’s understanding of the Red Planet.” All of this means that, even though we can consider this Competition the Second Space Race, it does not mean that Humanity will experience a military conflict outside the Earth any soon. Even term Star Wars, derived from popculture was just a catchphrase for American anti-ballistic defense system, which in reality didn’t saw any use. We are not having real Star Wars on Earths’ Orbit in near future.