Monday, November 08, 2010

Who will win the Asian Space Race?

hina’s first picture from the moon, returned by its Chang’e lunar probe, was unveiled by Premier Wen Jiabao in a morning ceremony today. Framed and blown up to the size of the officials on stage, the black-and-white, cratered photo was meant to show that the country is now one of the "select few powers that have the capabilities to engage in deep-space exploration," according to state news agency Xinhua.
The probe is packed with additional equipment, including a gamma and X-ray spectrometer, a laser altimeter, a microwave detector, a detector for high-energy solar particles, and more. But as the ceremony today shows, the probe’s symbolic importance perhaps rivals its scientific value.

Already, an Asian space race is well in gear, with Japan’s moon probe a few weeks ahead of Chang’e in lunar orbit, an Indian probe planned, and a South Korean lunar exploration project announced just last week. Regional nations, as well as the United States, are worried that China’s space program will take on a military as well as a scientific dimension.

However, according to Reuters, an official from the China National
Space Administration today downplayed reports that the government planned to launch a manned lunar mission by 2020 –  the date by which the United States too hopes to land astronauts again on the lunar surface.
From Reuters:
"I don’t know of such a plan," said Sun Laiyan, head of the China
National Space Administration. … "Please don’t give us any more pressure. But I’m confident one day we’ll put an astronaut on the moon," he told a news conference.

SHOOT: It's China, versus Japan versus Korea.  

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