China, India, Japan and the New “Space Race”

We all know the “space race” of the 60s. We all know how the United States and Russia have exceeded every human limit and put us into space. NASA is known to us.

The New “Space Race”

NASA is still above all other agencies and nations, leading the space research and having the most missions. But there are other countries that rose in silence bringing more and more creativity and work in the space research. Countries like China, Japan or India have made great efforts in the last decade, setting up the new “space race”. 

Last year, we witnessed Hayabusa2, a JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) mission, as it landed on the 162173 Ryugu asteroid. Last month, the Indian Chandrayaan 2 left Earth in order to land on the Moon and study the abundance of water on it. China just gave us the first surface images from the “dark side” of the Moon. 

That is not all. Now a total of 72 countries have a space program, with a lot of countries joining in the last few years. Even Luxembourg, the small European country is thought to become a “centre of space business”. 

Related: NASA and ISRO's upcoming joint venture (NISAR)

New Space race
Chang'e 4 Module

The Gap

Space exploration is becoming a trend again. After all this time, I can clearly say that it has a future. Even NASA finally scheduled the next human landing on the Moon, after 50 years. But why this big gap? I keep having this question from a great number of people. The answer is somehow ironic, expected, and sad: lack of political interest. The boom of the 60s was highly boosted by the will of the United States to show that they are the world power in technology. The “waste” of money was somehow justified. But after showing the world that they can land humans on the Moon, the US cut the funds given to NASA. That doesn’t mean other countries weren't working on their own.

NASA, But What About the Others? 

This doesn’t mean NASA didn’t do anything in the last 50 years. It did. Actually, it had a lot of memorable achievements. In terms of quantity, there is no other space program in the world with as many space missions as NASA. But other countries should be credited with record-breaking achievements too. Original, extraordinary achievements. The China National Space Agency (CNSA) is probably the fastest-rising space agency in the world. In 2003, they launched their first crewed mission, started a lunar exploration program (Chang’e), and built one of the best heavy-weight rockets in the world (the Long March 9).

New Space Race
Long March 3B, carrying ChinaSat-2D

ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation is also making incredible progress. Not only that they are having a lot of missions and new rockets, but they are also making them more efficiently. Their last mission, Chandrayaan 2 cost less than half of the cost of the last Avengers movie. Also, India encourages students to pursue science and astronomy, with a good school program and big funds to universities. Nearly 620 organisations worked for Chandrayaan 2, out of 500 were universities. In 2014, India also became the first nation of the world to successfully carry out the Mars mission in its very first attempt. The cost of the mission was less than the Hollywood film Gravity.

Related: Meet Nandini Harinath, the woman who took India to Mars

Collaboration

Even more fascinating about this new “space race” is the will for collaboration. Not only that the results will be better, but also countries getting along well and working for a common purpose can’t do any harm. 

“We have, sometimes, countries that are not necessarily always on the best of terms yet when it comes to space, exploration, science and discovery, we can all collaborate in ways that are meaningful to all of humanity.” - Jim Bridenstine

The Need for Space Exploration 

But why exactly do we need this space programs? Why bother to send all these missions into space? For the sake of science and knowledge? To discover the secrets of nature and push the limits of humanity? Well, yes, but only partly. 

When talking to the public or discussing with children, I always get this question: what can I do with astrophysics? Why would it bring me money? Does anybody need it? Now, more than ever, I am confident with giving an answer to those questions, other that involving the love for science. Space does have applications for our daily lives.

Of course, humanity’s future is not on Earth, and that is an extremely motivating goal. There is so much we can do in order to prepare humanity for living somewhere else. It is a goal worth working for, but for now, we have Earth. This is the counter-argument I hear the most. But I can give other examples: satellites, Medicine, Asteroid mining. Earth is having problems right now, and we can find a lot of our limited resources in space. This would be enormously helpful to our planet, and we would also have a huge resource. The process of mining asteroids is obviously cleaner than mining Earth. Tell me I’m wrong. 

Also Read: All the 30 articles of Basics of Astrophysics series

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