Race for space resources will heat up after China moon landing, warns expert

While China's moon landing has been hailed as a significant moment in space exploration, an Australian expert warns it could have greater ramifications on Earth.

Fifteen years after sending an astronaut to space, China has become the first country to land on the far side of the moon.

The moon rotates at the same rate as it orbits the Earth, so most of the far side - sometimes called the "dark side" - is never visible from Earth.

While previous spacecraft have seen the far side, none has ever made a landing.

Dr Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, said it is a significant development.

"We've never really explored the far side of the moon," he said.

"There are a lot of scientific reasons for exploring it because of the way we think the moon was formed and what the far side has, and really ultimately for future space and astronomy exploration.

"So technologically and scientifically it's been a big achievement," he said.

The landing is the latest step for China in its race to catch up with Russia and the United States and become a major space power by 2030. 

A mock-up of China's Chang'e-4 lander that made a historic landing on the moon
Source: AAP

Until now, the United States has been the only country to have landed humans on the moon, but both China and the former Soviet Union have been able to put people into space.

Countries are looking towards the moon as a potential solar system pit stop, with US space agency, NASA, planning to have people on Mars by mid-2030.

Dr Tucker said the moon is full of resources like water ice and Helium-3, which could assist in making Mars - and even the moon itself - more habitable for humans.

He said China will seek to capitalise on their win.

"It was showing both scientifically and technologically they're here as a power and looking at fuel - for what will turn probably into an interesting space legal battle, and that is resources in space," he said. 

Dr Tucker said that race has already started and will continue to heat up.

"So currently there's a treaty, the 1967 Outer Moon Treaty, which governs the use of resources and says that anything from the moon should be for all humankind," he said.

"Well, obviously that is not going to happen."

The moon surface after China's robotic lunar probe Chang'e-4 landed at the preselected landing area on the far side of the moon.
Source: SBS News

"So when what we call mining in space, resource utilisation in space - whether by the moon, Mars or asteroids - becomes more and more of a reality, what we'll see is a bigger and bigger issue."

He said Australia could have a role to play.

"We need to move away from a treaty system and more into a self-regulatory system that not only represents countries but private companies as well.

"And hopefully Australia, through past expertise in search and rescue even, and air traffic control, will play a role in this."

- With AP and Reuters

Published 4 January 2019 at 12:56pm, updated 4 January 2019 at 1:14pm
By Tara Cosoleto