Though the United States was the first country to land on the moon, it might not be the one who ends up owning it. Space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow warns that China may be making huge lunar land grabs by the year 2022.
Bigelow shared his views at the 2011 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight. He owns Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas company that is producing space modules for government and commercial clients.
Bigelow said Americans have rested on their laurels for too long and are in danger of losing the new space race to the Chinese. Since the U.S. landed on the moon in 1969, there have been no significant strides taken to colonize it, with only six moon landing since the initial touchdown.
"Americans are still basking in the lunar glory from 40 years ago," Bigelow told SPACE.com. "But we don't own one square foot of the damn place. NASA is a shadow of the space agency it once was in the 1960s and 1970s."
International law doesn't have many rules on how ownership rights of the moon are obtained. So the land is up for grabs for anyone who can maintain a continual human presence on the lunar surface.
Bigelow said that China has both the will and resources to become the first owners of the moon. Since China has no debt, it is free to invest resources into space travel. China has shown more interest in becoming a global super power, and ownership of the moon would have huge psychological effects on international relations.
"I think nothing else China could possibly do in the next 15 years would cause as great a benefit for China," Bigelow said.
The venture would prove extremely profitable for any party involved. The moon contains resources such as water and helium-3, a potential fuel for nuclear fusion. Water and energy are both products that will see bigger demand but smaller supply here on Earth.
He hopes the warning will inspire the U.S. to get back into the space game. He suggests the U.S. Army shifts 10 percent of the money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq into space development. That would amount to $15.9 billion based on President Obama's 2011 request for money to fund the wars.