No place for rivalry in space exploration

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 June, 2009, 12:00am

The real Buzz Lightyear is in town. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, is here to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing. His visit coincides with Nasa's launch yesterday of a pair of space probes to scout the moon for the return of US astronauts there in 10 years' time. Apollo 11 crewmate Neil Armstrong left the spacecraft first on that historic date - July 20, 1969. For that, and broadcasting the epochal statement about taking a small step for himself but a giant leap for mankind, Armstrong stole all the thunder. No matter, we are glad an authentic hero and true space pioneer is among us at a time when China, too, is actively exploring space.

The moon has become a busy place. In recent years, Japan, India, the European Union and China have all sent satellites to orbit the moon and chart its terrain and atmosphere. Malaysia and South Korea also harbour space ambitions. Now, the US, the most successful space-exploring nation in history, is again preparing manned missions. China is planning the same.

A space race is on, though it is much more benign than the last one, which was driven by cold war rivalry between the Russians and Americans. But it is hard to avoid the impression that much costly effort is being duplicated. The competition for prestige among advanced and developing nations should not blind them to the need to co-operate and share resources, technology and talent. The last frontier does not belong to any one nation; its peaceful exploration should serve to bring countries closer together and advance science and technology. The west, especially the US, is wary about transferring technology to China because it distrusts the intentions behind its space programmes, which are closely tied to the military. But this is a chicken-and-egg problem; only by working together can nations establish trust.

Yesterday, starry-eyed local youngsters listened to Aldrin's lecture about his experience in space. They show that space exploration transcends national rivalry; it should be a common ideal of mankind.