On the other side of the coin, it should be pointed out that India has had a very active space programme for decades, mainly focusing on application satellites. As a result, the quality of life of Indian citizens has been improved by the use of space-borne technology, in particular in the areas of communications, weather prediction and remote sensing applied to the search for natural resources. However, the Mars mission is a new venture for the programme, since it is a purely scientific mission to investigate the atmosphere and surface of another planet. So why has the Indian space effort taken this direction?
Again the media have come to the rescue with the suggestion that we now have an ‘Asian space race’, with India and China being the main contenders. Unfortunately I don’t think this proposition holds water. I say ‘unfortunately’ because how great would it be if we had another full-blown international space race – last time this happened, between theSoviet Union and the USA, great things were achieved and much progress made in just a few short years during the 196os and 70s. However the reality is that, although the Indian space programme is very impressive, its declared objectives are not in the least bit grandiose – continuing to focus mainly on space applications. The Chinese on the other hand do have extravagant ambitions in the space arena, declaring an intention to take up the reigns of leadership in human space exploration within the next decade or so. And with their drive, ambition and resource (both material and human), I have no doubt that they will achieve this objective.
However, the USA, under the Obama administration, currently shows no appetite to regain its hard-won role of leadership in human spaceflight, so it appears that the next steps in the human exploration of space will most likely emerge from the Asian continent.