NASA chief accuses China of covering up "military program" and warns of new space race

Washington DC - NASA's chief on Wednesday accused China of using civilian programs to hide military objectives in space and warned that the US is "in a race."

NASA chief Bill Nelson claimed China is using its space program to cover up military objectives amid a new space race.
NASA chief Bill Nelson claimed China is using its space program to cover up military objectives amid a new space race.  © Chandan Khanna / AFP

"China has made extraordinary strides [in space] especially in the last 10 years, but they are very, very secretive," Bill Nelson told the appropriations committee of the US House of Representatives as he testified on the US space agency's 2025 budget request.

"We believe that a lot of their so-called civilian space program is a military program. And I think, in effect, we are in a race."

Nelson also stressed that it was "incumbent on us" to get to the moon first as he warned: "My concern is if China got there first and suddenly said 'ok this is our territory you stay out'."

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Though he did not think the US was going to lose its "global edge" in space, he recognized that "China is really throwing a lot of money at it and they've got a lot of room in their budget to grow."

"I think that we just better not let down our guard," Nelson added.

Nelson said he hoped "the Chinese space program would come to its senses and understand that civilian space is for peaceful uses," something he claimed had not been "demonstrated by China" so far.

With its Artemis program, NASA wants to put humans on the moon again after more than 50 years. The moon landing mission Artemis 3 was recently postponed to September 2026.

The long-term goal of Artemis is to establish a permanent lunar base as a foundation for missions to Mars.

The US military is also involved in the project, amid a push for NASA and the Department of Defense to "collaborate more closely."

Cover photo: Chandan Khanna / AFP

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