Is Asia in a Space Race? - The Intrepid

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Is Asia in a Space Race?

On Wednesday this week, India launched the Chandrayaan-I, an unmanned probe lunar probe. If successful, India will be the fourth country to plant its flag on the moon – after the Americans, Soviets, and Japanese. The robotic probe will orbit the moon several times to gather topographical data before deploying a second smaller probe to land on the moon’s surface. In addition to scientific equipment, the probe also carries an Indian flag.

While the global scientific community has applauded the successful launch, many Indians have questioned the $78 million expenditure. “I don't think it is a good thing,” says Sheela, a poor Indian fruit vendor. “I think this money could be used here for the poor.”

Other Indians are thrilled and see the project as an important part of India’s development. “It is not a question of whether we can afford it,” says Dr K. Kasturirangan of the Indian Space Research Organization. “It's whether we can afford to ignore it… the returns, in terms of the science... the technology, inspiration, stature, prospects for international cooperation... are immense.”

Then there’s China, India’s main competitor. Last year, China successfully launched its first mission to orbit the moon and has further announced plans to land a man on the moon by 2020. Although, India has made great economic strides over the last decade, the country is often viewed as China's runner up. By landing on the moon, India is hoping to enter the commercial satellite market as a viable alternative to China and the other major players.

This kind of satellite technology also has military potential. China and India briefly fought during the Sino-Indian War in 1962, and relations between the two countries remain bitter to this day. While it is highly unlikely that an armed conflict will break out between these countries in the near future, the strategic message sent by this launch is clear: The race is on!