The U.S.-Russia space race of the last century ended with America putting a man on the Moon and declaring its technological superiority. This time, it will be China that will challenge American space domination. The landing of the Chang’e 4 probe on the dark side of the Moon on January 3, 2019 is a clear sign that the space race of our generation has begun.
New space race
China launched its first satellite in 1970. Just four decades later in 2013, it landed a probe on the Moon. Beijing now plans to set up a lunar base sometime in 2030. However, China’s ambition for space exploration seems to be driven by the same sort of behavior Beijing exhibits in the South China Sea, where it wants to exert its authority over other countries.
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“The universe is an ocean, the Moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don’t go there now even though we’re capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants. If others go there, then they will take over, and you won’t be able to go even if you want to. This is reason enough,” Ye Peijian, a 73-year-old aerospace engineer and head of the Chinese lunar exploration program, said in a statement (The Daily Beast).
On the other hand, NASA hasn’t sent a man outside low Earth orbit since 1972. Over the past decades, the U.S. administration has cut funding to the agency due to various domestic pressures accusing space exploration to be a waste of money. However, this does not mean that America is trailing behind China. On the contrary, the U.S. is well poised to lead the field of space exploration even in this century.
While NASA does have a Moon base program, what is interesting about the current American space industry is that we have private space companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin aiming to set up colonies beyond Earth. Musk has plans to colonize Mars. As such, the new space race may well be a competition between U.S. private space companies (supported by NASA) and the Chinese government space agency. And if the result of the last space race is any indication, America’s capitalist system should once again triumph over communist-funded space exploration, this time against China.
“As long as the U.S. remains focused on cultivating its commercial space industry and continuing to fund cutting-edge science programs, it has little reason to fear falling behind. Better yet, it has a much better chance to attract space scientists and other talented people keen to profit from one of the 21st century’s most promising growth industries,” according to Bloomberg.
Far side of the moon
Though the Chang’e 4 probe is said to have landed on the dark side of the Moon, it does not suggest that the region is enveloped by darkness. It simply means that this area of the Moon has not yet been properly explored by human beings. In fact, the Moon does not have any region that is always under permanent darkness.
“Even though you won’t be able to see their landing site, you’ll be able to tell when the Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 [rover] are bathed in light or cloaked in darkness just by looking up at the sky on a cloudless night. When the Sun is shining fully on the side of the Moon facing Earth, we see a bright, full Moon — but the far side of the Moon is dark. And when the Sun lights up the far side of the Moon, the near side is dark and we see a new Moon,” according to The Verge.
The probe will soon start exploring the ground beneath the Von Karman crater located in the South Pole-Aitken basin. Since the basin is estimated to be billions of years old, scientists expect some interesting data to come out from the exploration.