Veteran moonwalkers of the Apollo Program say that the United States needs to take space seriously as a front in a "new Cold War" with China.
Astronauts Charles Duke of Apollo 16, Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17, Rusty Schweikert of Apollo 9, and Randy Bresnik of Artemis II, an upcoming mission to the Moon, discussed the future of the final frontier in comments to The Epoch Times at the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington on May 29.
Schmitt, who served as a U.S. senator from New Mexico after his return from the Moon, said that space was a crucial aspect of the U.S. victory in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, as the United States faces what he called the "new Cold War" with China, it needs to take it just as seriously.
Asked what it was like to walk on the Moon, Schmitt, the very last man to set foot on the lunar surface, said, "It was great to be part of a major program.
"Stepping on the Moon, actually exploring it for three days, was far more than I ever had anticipated. It's one of those events in life where you try to anticipate, and it's going to end up being more than that."
But he said more important than this was the geopolitical repercussions of the event, which heralded an end to the Space Race and which, Schmitt said, ultimately cost the Soviet Union the Cold War.
"[The Apollo Program] really was one of the key factors in winning the Cold War, there's no question about that," Schmitt said.
After Apollo 17, the United States had initially planned three more voyages to the lunar surface, but these were ultimately canceled as the United States looked toward a new era of space exploration with the launch of the space shuttle.
Now, after over half a century, the United States is set to return to the Moon in the coming years, first for an orbital fly-by in November 2024 as part of the Artemis II program. Humans will once again step foot on the Moon sometime in 2025 or beyond.
In part, this is due to funding: after NASA pulled off the remarkable feat of meeting President John F. Kennedy's goal to land a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, public interest in the project waned; at the same time, NASA lost a large portion of the funding that had made the Apollo Program possible.
If the United States hopes to win this "new Cold War" with China, Schmitt said, "the federal government has to recognize that there is a basic national interest in being active and actually dominant in space."
"There is another Cold War running with China," Schmitt said. "And China is not letting up. They're gonna try to dominate space as [they're] trying to dominate activities here on Earth. And so space, once again, is at the forefront. And I think it's extraordinarily important that that program go forward and that it is successful."
Still, Schmitt didn't say this necessarily had to be handled all through NASA.
America Enabling Chinese Space AdvancesCharles Duke of the Apollo 16 mission said he agreed with Schmitt's assessment, and added concerns that America was enabling Chinese space advances through its universities.
"I'm very nationalistic," Duke said. "I want America to win."
Duke raised concerns that ongoing trends in American universities threaten this goal.
American universities are global leaders in education, accepting millions of international students from across the world every year—including many Chinese nationals, often on the dime of the Chinese Communist Party.
Calls for CooperationSchweikert of the Apollo 9 mission painted a different picture.
Asked about Schmitt's warnings, Schweikert quipped that Schmitt "had the conservative thing going on," whereas he is more liberal.
He conceded that "the Chinese are certainly moving very, very aggressively into space."
But he called their achievements "impressive," and said that rather than competing, the United States should seek cooperation with China in space.
The only reason this hasn't happened, he intimated, is "short-sighted policy" pushed for political reasons by Congress.
"My own feeling is, you know, we can compete here on the ground on the surface for different reasons, whatever," Schweikert said. "But when we move out into space, it's humanity. And it doesn't matter what color you are, what nationality, or anything else—we will move out into space as humans from Planet Earth. Chinese, Russians, everybody else."
Bresnik agreed, expressing the hope that humanity won't "militarize space."
"We want to go forward with our international partners to continue to explore, because it's going to be kind of hard for any one country to go to the Moon and Mars," Bresnik said. "It's going to need to be humanity's effort, and [I'm] looking forward to being a part of that."
Currently, both NASA and SpaceX hope to send crewed missions to Mars in the coming years, but funding for such projects is limited.