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Asia’s Race to the Skies


By Joshua Hill —— Bio and Archives--October 3, 2007

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If you were to be asked who was the leader in space exploration, there is really only one name that springs to mind; NASA. For so long, America has been at the forefront of many discoveries made in space, either by visiting space or by watching it, that we are sometimes tuned out to the fact that they are now merely players, as the poem would read.

But even then, we have to remember that it was the Russians who beat the Americans into space with the first satellite in the form of Sputnik, and the first man in to space, thanks to Yuri Gagarin. In reality, we have to ask ourselves, how it is NASA got a name for themselves at all (and then we remember the whole Neil Armstrong thing).

Fifty years on from Sputnik, and Americans are conceding that they are no longer the superior space explorers they once were. In fact, it is Asia that the world is now looking towards for the future of space exploration, despite attempts by NASA to get back on the front page.

Experts at a recent conference in Pasadena, California believe it is only a matter of time before Asia leads the space exploration field.

September 14 saw the Japanese launch its first lunar orbiter, China have plans to launch a moon probe by the end of this year, and India will follow with one in the first half of 2008. In addition, China and India have proposed the possibility of a manned lunar mission in the next decade.

“In America, contrary to our self-image, we are no longer leaders but simply players,” said Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in a recent editorial. “We’ve moved backward just by standing still.”

The field of space exploration doesn’t just revolve around launching things into space either. Asian countries are beginning to sprout new scientists like a rabbit would bunnies. According to a report released this year by the National Academy of Sciences, in 2004 around 500,000 engineers graduated in China, 200,000 in India and only 70,000 in the US.

“Although many people assume that United States will always be a world leader in science and technology, this may not continue to be the case,” the report warned. “We fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost—and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost, if indeed it can be regained at all.

“This nation must prepare with great urgency to preserve its strategic and economic security.”

Despite all of this, NASA is still making headway in the field of space exploration, even if it may be hand in hand with other agencies across the world, such as the European Space Agency. The Goddard Space Flight Center located outside of Washington is still one of the leaders in exploration and discovery, and continually makes headline news across the internet, if not the New York Times newspaper.

The US—through NASA—has vowed that they will return to the Moon by 2020, some 48 years after the last US visit. They’ve also set a JFK like target of landing a man on Mars by 2037, a target that many feel is overly optimistic, given the lack of popular support from today’s youthful population and a lack of governmental interest in developing elite scientists.

Frank Fernandez, director emeritus of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), places the blame on a lack of investment in human resources. “We need to invest in people,” Fernandez warned. “We don’t have people in the pipeline.”

The only thing that can be garnered from this at the moment however, is this simple fact; with competition comes the desire to outshine each other, and that is always a good thing for scientific endeavor.

Joshua Hill, a Geek’s-Geek from Melbourne, Australia, Josh is an aspiring author with dreams of publishing his epic fantasy, currently in the works, sometime in the next 5 years. A techie, nerd, sci-fi nut and bookworm.



Guest Column Joshua Hill -- Bio and Archives | Comments

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