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China and India: The New Leaders in Space

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China's Chang'e-3 lunar probe and India's expedition to Mars, called Mangalyaan, launched only one day apart, represent a new stage in mankind's exploration of space. The Space Age, which can be considered to have begun over fifty years ago with the launching of the first earth satellite, Sputnik, by the Soviets on October 4, 1957, has been dominated for most of that time by the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. As most of us know, the United States was able to overcome the initial lead of the Soviet Union with the Mercury and Gemini programs, and with Apollo was able to land two astronauts on the moon and bring them safely back to earth in July of 1969, just before President Kennedy's self-imposed deadline. In the roughly fifty years since them, the major players have remained these two superpowers, although other nations, such as the European countries also had their moments, such as the launching of the Beagle spacecraft by Great Britain on a mission to search for life on the planet Mars, a mission that unfortunately failed.

Today, however, things have begun to change. This country and Russia are no longer the only countries that are seeking to sail on the New Frontier. The United States, after having landed twelve astronauts on the moon, and having made plans for even greater voyages to Mars and the other planets, lost its way, amid political and economic troubles and a loss of vision, and instead of going to Mars, settled for the Space Shuttle, which was basically just a big truck used to ferry astronauts to low-earth orbit and back, although it did accomplish some significant scientific objectives, such as the orbiting of the Hubble Space Telescope and the building of the International Space Station. The Soviet Union, after having failed to beat this country to the moon, also had a similar loss of nerve, and with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990, no longer had the unity of purpose and economic means to plan grand voyages to other planets.

However, it has been the nature of mankind throughout history not to settle for safe harbors, but to want to go explore that which was not yet known, and this hasn't changed. Only now it is countries like China and India that are spear-heading this urge to explore. It probably is no coincidence that these are also the nations with the fastest-growing economies. The same spirit of risk-taking and initiative behind these two space missions is also probably responsible for the fact that these countries are growing so dynamically, and may well indeed be poised in the near future to overtake the United States and Russia, not only in space, but here on Earth as well. A positive aspect of this is the fact that, unlike the space race of the 1960's, which both the U.S. And the Soviets used to try to prove that their way of life was superior to the other, these present-day missions are more cooperative, with China and India working along-side other countries, such as each other and Japan, in order to accomplish their goals. Not only is this cheaper and more efficient than trying to go it alone, it also brings up the possibility that perhaps if we can learn to work together exploring space, maybe we can also work together making the Earth a better place to live.

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