If writers aren’t careful they can sound like they’re channeling the yellow peril when we write about the Communist Chinese. But today’s China is a far cry from the divided weak nation of the 19th century. The Chinese have gotten their game back and challenge us for power and influence around the world. Their former sponsors the Russians are now yapping poodles at their heels. Stalin would not be happy.

Are the Chicoms at our level of strategic power yet? No. At least not fully. Economically they are knocking at the door. When it comes to military power projection they are still working on regional hegemon status with our Pacific forces and allies in their way. But one area they are looking to surpass us in is space exploration.

They are building a space station with reportedly military capabilities. They’ve sent unmanned probes to the moon and are within days, yes-days, of landing an unmanned probe on Mars. Unmanned missions are the precursor to manned missions.

Now I know they recently had a mission abort and the craft was destroyed in the atmosphere. And given their pace of training, I’m betting more than several Chinese astronauts have lost their lives. Their tight secrecy precludes any outside knowledge of that. The Soviets were the same way. But it doesn’t mean they are taking a pause to assess, like we did after Apollo 1. Individual life is meaningless to Communists. They will drive on.

Do you remember, if you’re over 50, where you were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon? A major recollection from my childhood is Apollo 8 circling the moon during Christmas of 1968. When Apollo 11 landed my family was driving down the Eastern seaboard on the way to our new home in Hollywood, Florida. That night we were in a hotel in Georgia. Me and my dad stayed up late to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. It was amazing.

But what if the American flag Buzz Aldrin planted on the moon had been another flag planted by another astronaut, specifically, a Soviet cosmonaut? What if a symbol of hate, murder, and slavery, the hammer and sickle, had gotten their first? What would that have done to American prestige and honor? And recall, about twenty years later the Soviets fell and ceased to exist as a government and world power.

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What if that same scenario happened today, with the Chinese taking the place of the Soviets? How would you feel if you saw a Chinese flag on Mars? The flag of the Laogai, the Chinese concentration camps. The flag of the Orwellian social credit system. The flag of the murderous Cultural Revolution and mass murderous Great Leap Forward, with estimates ranging from 15 to 55 million deaths through famine.

That flag. Not ours. That flag on Mars. It is a scenario that chills the bones. If we do not redouble our efforts in space it is a scenario that is all too likely to become a reality.