China’s space program has been making news lately after the country managed to land a probe on the dark side of the moon—a first for humanity. The lander, named “Chang’e 4,” contains a self-contained biosphere and plant seeds, which sprouted earlier this month. This is the first time in history humankind has grown any biological organism on the surface of the moon. The plant, however, died within 24 hours.
With the success of Chang’e 4, many have declared the second space race to be officially underway. The U.S. is China’s biggest competitor in space, as it is with most everything else. The two nations are currently in an economic war, going blow for blow on tariffs. There is also competition between Washington and Beijing to be the de facto superpower in the Pacific, and some fear an incident in the Pacific Ocean could spark a military showdown. Recently, the U.S. has been calling on allies in the region to help project power.
“I think what could potentially bring more pressure on the Chinese is other partners and allies joining in these activities [in the South China Sea],” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Randy Schriver in late December of 2018, according to Stars and Stripes. “If not freedom-of-navigation operations, just joint patrols, presence operations.”
The current rivalry between the superpowers has also ushered in a new wave of government-sponsored cyberattacks for the purposes of espionage and disrupting operations. In December of last year, two Chinese nationals were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for launching such attacks. Both Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong were charged with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft,” according to the DOJ. One of the targets identified by investigators was NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“The theft of sensitive defense technology and cyber intrusions are major national security concerns and top investigative priorities for the DCIS,” said DCIS Director O’Reilly, according to a DOJ press release. “The indictments unsealed today are the direct result of a joint investigative effort between DCIS and its law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate individuals and groups who illegally access information technology systems of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Defense Industrial Base. DCIS remains vigilant in our efforts to safeguard the integrity of the Department of Defense and its enterprise of information technology systems.”
Although the indictments prove the U.S. is taking cybersecurity and corporate espionage seriously, a new space race could mean U.S.-based aerospace companies will see an escalation of hacking attempts. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing have faced such attacks in the past. According to CNBC, a North Korean hacker recently attempted to infiltrate the company’s THAAD Missile program in South Korea. Boeing also came under assault in 2016 when Su Bin, a Chinese national, tried to steal military aircraft specs. Bin was given a four-year sentence in federal prison, according to Time. If past actions are any indication of future events, U.S. defense and aerospace companies must continue to vigilantly protect their data from cyber attacks.