Houston:  Commercial space entrepreneur Robert Bigelow is worried that the US may lose the new game of "solar system monopoly" and that China might soon be the owner of the moon.

The entrepreneur said the ownership of the moon, is up for grabs, and China is likely to snag it.

Bigelow, the owner of aerospace company Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, said at the 2011 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight that by the time America gets into gear to build its own moon base, large swaths of lunar territory may already be claimed.

Bigelow's comments came at a talk that the firebrand entrepreneur himself warned the audience would be "controversial” where he said that Americans were "still basking in the lunar glory from 40 years ago".

"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," he said.

In contrast, he argued that China has the motivation and ability to win the next space race and claim ownership of much of the moon.

Bigelow argued that international law would allow a nation to make such a claim, especially if it were able to enforce it through continuous human lunar presence.

He pointed out that owning the moon would be a windfall both financially and for international prestige.

It not only offers a jumping off point for further exploration of the solar system, but it also contains vast stores of valuable resources such as water and helium-3, a possible fuel for nuclear fusion.

Moreover, the symbolic and global psychological impact would be huge, Bigelow argued.
"I think nothing else China could possibly do in the next 15 years would cause as great a benefit for China," he said.

He said in addition to China's growing technological prowess, the country has the cash, the lack of debt and the national will to become the owner of the moon.

Bigelow also predicted that China could claim ownership of vast swaths of lunar territory by 2022 to 2026.

"Hopefully this will produce the fear factor necessary to motivate the Americans," Bigelow said.

But while the US could be losing the race to own the moon, Bigelow pointed out that Mars offers another frontier up for grabs, contending that the US would do better to put 10 per cent of the money it currently spends on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward space exploration with the goal of establishing a presence on Mars.

"America would experience a rebirth of vision, excitement, science and global prestige," Bigelow said.

However, competition with China is not the only option, he said. "If the Chinese would have us as collaborators in moon exploration, space cooperation with China would be a great idea. A piece of something is better than a piece of nothing".

(Agencies)