The race for moondust: U.S. imperialism vs. China

By Janet Mayes
August 30, 2023

Staff workers with the return capsule of Chang’e-5 probe in Siziwang Banner, North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, on Dec. 17, 2020. The lander unfurled the first Chinese flag on the moon. PHOTO: BATHAYAR/CHINA DAILY

This article updates and supplements “Astronomical imperialism!” and “As Amazon workers struggle for a union, Bezos sends exploitation to outer space”.

There is much hullabaloo about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Artemis III project, which boasts with great fanfare that it will land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon in the next two or three years. The mission depends on the success of centibillionaire Elon Musk’s super rocket, SpaceX’s Starship, designed to ferry astronauts from lunar orbit to the moon’s surface.

In 2021, SpaceX won a $2.89 billion contract with NASA to develop the super rocket. So far it has failed to pass muster. The rocket’s recent unsuccessful explosive launch spewed brown grime and dust onto populated areas (New York Times, April 21) in Texas’s Boca Chica area, which Musk calls “a Wasteland.” The blasts are destroying the fragile surrounding ecostructure, replete with endangered species. (ESG Hound, April 16)

A global clean energy solution or a multibillion-dollar market?

What is this really all about? The United States is hellbent on building mining stations on the moon before China does because of another kind of dust: moondust, replete with helium-3, touted to be the next source of energy.

In 2021, Beijing’s Research Institute of Uranium Geology announced that China’s lunar Chang’e 5 mission had identified this precious mineral on the moon. Helium-3 fusion technology promises to produce clean energy: nuclear energy without radioactive waste. Fossil fuel and even current nuclear power plant technology would become obsolete.

Three space missions bringing back the helium-3 rich moondust would provide the entire planet with energy for a year. (China Daily, July 26, 2006) One cargo bay load (about 25 tons) on a space shuttle would power the entire U.S. for a year, representing a value of about $3 billion a ton. (Discovery)

“The country that corners the moon mining market of helium-3 will control, in essence, the Earth … The moon could become the Persian Gulf of the mid- to late-21st century. Clean and abundant fusion energy would change the world in ways that can barely be evaluated.” (The Hill, Sept. 18, 2022)

Crystal containing helium-3, smaller than the width of a human hair, collected by China in its Chang’e-5 lunar mission. PHOTO: TWITTER/@PDCHINA

China, along with Russia, plans to complete construction of a lunar base by 2035. Then it will mine the helium-3 rich crystal “Changesite-(Y),” which is contained in vast quantities on the moon’s regolith (layer of unconsolidated rocky material covering bedrock), lunar dust. “The crystal mineral [is] exceedingly tiny, about one-tenth the size of a human hair. … The helium-3 that it contains has the potential to change the world.” (The Hill, Sept. 18, 2022)

Since China accelerated plans for lunar exploration and future mining, the panicked imperialist countries, particularly the U.S., cannot sit by and just watch. (Discovery) They are horrified at the possibility that China could be the first country to gather the moondust that contains helium-3. If they lose this space race, imperialist governments and corporations will lose the opportunity to convert this potentially planet-saving technology into a multibillion dollar market.

In preparation for landing people on the moon before China, in 2025 or 2026, NASA engaged several companies to gather moondust samples which is “part of an effort by the agency to establish a precedent for ownership and use of space resources.” For example, NASA hired Masten Space System to gather small lunar samples, which NASA will then own. “Today’s Lunar Regolith Purchase is small measured in dollars,” Masten tweeted, “but monumental in impact on unlocking the value of space for humanity.” (Space News, Dec. 3, 2020)

The ultimate value, of course, is mammoth profits for the U.S., its imperialist allies and private companies if they control the mining, transporting and fusion processing of helium-3. In addition, given the fragile condition of Western economies, it is a space race the imperialists cannot afford to lose.

A mountain of lies exposed 

The U.S. and its imperialist allies rationalize spending billions of taxpayers’ dollars to beat China to the moon by repeating unsubstantiated lies and standard China-bashing. This is well-documented, for example, by Sara Flounders in “Accomplishments belie U.S. propaganda” (, Arjae Red, in “Imperialist media can’t stop lying about mosques in China” ( and Carlos Martinez in “The East is Still Red: Chinese Socialism in the 21st Century.”

These lies are told by U.S. officials and media which claim China must be prevented from “ruling” the world: “NASA chief Bill Nelson warned in July [2022] of a new ‘space race’ with China, in a groundless accusation that China wants to ‘occupy the moon,’ citing the lunar research base that China and Russia are co-building, which he is ‘very concerned about.’” (Global Times, Aug. 21, 2022) The Washington Examiner, a right-wing news outlet, attacks China with the fabricated, ominous statement: “If the West turns away from space, China, which cares little for human rights, … will forge ahead. A Chinese-dominated space frontier is not a future that anyone should want.” (April 12)

China’s humane approach to battling climate disaster 

Actually, it is clear that a “Chinese dominant space frontier” is, in fact, a future everyone should want. If our planet is to survive the climate disaster, it is imperative for the imperialists to lose the moon race.

Far from seeking to profit, China’s approach to international energy production is geared to protecting the planet. As Martinez explains when discussing China’s “green energy” solution in his abundantly researched book, socialist China’s international humanitarian policies are aimed at saving the globe from climate catastrophe.

China, which is not driven by the profit motive, will not seek world domination by harnessing helium-3 technology. As Workers World Managing Editor Deirdre Griswold wrote: “China’s economic planners have the power to make decisions that cost a lot of money, but will benefit the people — and the world — over the long run.” (

A 21st-century gold rush 

In 2020, NASA, the U.S. Department of State, and the newly re-established National Space Council created The Artemis Accords. Its principles “establish a common political understanding regarding mutually beneficial practices in the exploration and use of outer space, including activities conducted in support of NASA’s Artemis program.” (U.S. Department of State)

The document sounds benign, promising cooperation among signatory countries, all sorts of safety protocols, and preservation of lunar historic sites, such as the first Apollo landing site. However, embedded in the accord’s wording about “safety zones” is a sleight of hand, ensuring control of mining sites, by imperialist countries and corporations, whoever lays down a stake first — but not China!

Not surprisingly, ten of the 28 signatories are members of NATO and the others fall within the economic and strategic influence of the U.S., including Israel and Japan.

Notably, India’s space program successfully completed a soft-landing on the moon’s south pole region on Aug. 23, two months after the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with President Joe Biden and signed onto the Artemis Accords.

“Whilst the use of Safety Zones is ostensibly proposed for small scale In Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) activities focussed on lunar water production, messaging around the Artemis Accords has indicated that there may be an intent to use them to set precedent for longer term, larger scale commercial resource activity.” (ScienceDirect, Aug. 24, 2022)

“China has criticized the concept of safety zones laid out in the accords, and the head of Russia’s space program has stated that the accords are too ‘U.S.-centric’ to agree upon at present.” (The Hill, Sept. 18,  2022)

Actually, the U.S. Congress voted against inviting China to sign, because the body was against cooperating with its chief competitor!

Bezos vs. Musk

Centibillionaire Jeff Bezos, founder and current executive chairman of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, did not win the contract for his spaceship company, Blue Origin, to ferry astronauts to the moon. But he has not been deterred from profitable lunar ventures. He is developing “Blue Alchemist” technology, a process that would produce solar cells and transmission wire using simulated moon regolith. “The resulting solar cells can operate on the Moon for over a decade despite a ‘harsh’ environment, Blue Origin claims.” (, Feb 13)

Bezos and Musk are also rivals in their long-range goals to send their rocket ships to Mars. Musk, the notorious owner of Tesla and Twitter (now renamed “X”), infamously advocates detonating atomic bombs over Mars’ polar regions to make it more livable! (Space, Aug 17, 2019)

The mission of Bezos’s next generation rocket is focused on the red planet. In early 2023, his untested rocket ship New Glenn landed a launch contract with NASA for the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) mission to study Mars’ magnetosphere. (Forbes, Feb. 23) The moon will become the launching pad for these ventures.

U.S. Space Force ready and able

As discussed in “Astronomical imperialism!” (, while corporations scheme to gain riches, the Pentagon’s militarization of space is intensifying to protect capitalist interests and uphold U.S. domination. The U.S. Department of Defense established a sixth branch of the military, the U.S. Space Force, in 2019.

The establishment of the Space Force sent a clear warning to Russia, China, Iran and any other countries that they view as global competitors, informing them that the imperialist U.S. is staking its claim to supremacy over space technology — and over outer space itself!

Billions of taxpayers’ dollars, sorely needed for the health and welfare of human beings worldwide, are funneled into these space programs. As exciting and as visionary the exploration of space appears to be, as usual, capitalists manipulate scientific curiosity and discovery into profit-making ventures.

Janet Mayes, an amateur astronomer, authored a science fiction novel about U.S. hegemony in space, “Beyond the Horse’s Eye, a Fantasy Out of Time,” under the pen name Janet Rose. A review can be found at