Friday, November 14, 2008

A Chinese Moon?

The International Herald Tribune reminds us this week that there is still a space race going on, this time though it's centered in Asia.

China's space program has been following an ambitious path in recent years. In 2003 they became the only nation besides the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia to put a man into space using their own technology. But that was just a first step for China, which hopes to land a man on the moon by 2020. Now other Asian powers are gearing up their own plans to put men into outer space. India is also talking about getting a man to the moon and currently has an unmanned moon mission going on. Japan and South Korea are also talking about their own homegrown efforts to get men into orbit and perhaps the moon as well.

There are technical reasons to have satellites in space - communications and spying on other countries immediately come to mind - but as the IHT points out space programs have also always been good PR for a country, this was especially true during the original space race between the US and Soviet Union in the late 1950s/1960s. More than anything else, the Soviet Union's status as a superpower was made when it beat the United States (in terms of technology, the biggest kid on the block) in launching the first satellite (Sputnik in 1957) and first man (Yuri Gagarin in 1961) into space.

China used the Olympics this summer as a bold way of announcing they had arrived as one of the world's major powers. Putting a man on the moon could be the way they choose to declare that they've made it to superpower status.
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