23 October 2008

The New Space Race

The largest democracy in the world has an unmanned probe headed for the Moon. Chandrayaan-1 (Sanskrit for "moon-craft") carries eleven payloads and will orbit at only 100 km above the lunar surface for--they hope--two years. Two of the payloads are American in origin, the Mineralogy Mapper and the Miniature Synthetic Aperture Radar. It was just about a month ago when Chinese spacewalkers made international headlines. North Korea wants to get in on the act next year, it seems. That ought to raise hackles across the globe!

What's happening? The Russians and US are still manning the ISS, the Shuttle heads out in a month for its 124th mission, and the pictures coming from Cassini, the European Space Agency's crown jewel, are absolutely stunning. My friends, we are in the golden age of space exploration. Those of us who were weaned on the dramatic Apollo flights of the late 60s and early 70s may be a bit jaded. Ho hum, another rocket. But what we are seeing now is far beyond those missions in scope. The Space Race of that era was charged with the energy of the Cold War conflict with the Soviet Union. These flights lack the human drama of Armstrong's steps, but the robustness of the technology has now been proven. The world is heading into space--not just two countries. The ubiquity of the ballistic missile will prove to be a problem for all peace-loving peoples. It will get so that anyone can launch them. Like the proliferation of nuclear technology, it behooves us to sit up and take notice. Space seems to be the province, these days, of a handful of geeks. We can't let that happen. The future is for all of us. Start paying attention--the view is fine.

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