With lunar missions, lunar bases and lunar resources in the sights of both the U.S. and China, there are many reasons why the two governments might want their own special slice of the lunar pie.

Technically speaking, international law prohibits any nation from claiming ownership of any celestial body – the American flag planted there is just for looks. But in a recent interview, NASA head Bill Nelson warned that China could try to effectively take over the Moon, reflecting the growing geopolitical tensions around space. China, of course, didn’t appreciate this accusation, and a public – and rather accusatory – back and forth between Nelson and the head of China’s space agency followed.

To find out if there is any substance to these worries of a Chinese-run Moon, I reached out to Svetla Ben-Itzhak and R. Lincoln Hines, two scholars who study space security and the Chinese space program. They detail China’s growing presence in space and explain that technical challenges and massive cost make exclusionary control of the Moon out of reach for now. What’s more, any attempt by China or any other country to claim control “would risk international condemnation and a potential international retaliatory response," they write.

Also today:

Daniel Merino

Assistant Science Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast

China and the U.S. both have big plans for the Moon, but there are a number of reasons why no country could actually claim ownership of any land there. 3dScultor/iStock via Getty Images

NASA’s head warned that China may try to claim the Moon – two space scholars explain why that’s unlikely to happen

Svetla Ben-Itzhak, Air University; R. Lincoln Hines, Air University

A comment by Bill Nelson, the NASA administrator, sparked a strong public response from the Chinese government. But due to legal and practical reasons, no country could take over the Moon anytime soon.

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