Have you heard about the space race?

It’s not what you think. Similar to the space race that the U.S. participated in back in the 60s, China and India are vying to get to… the moon.

China recently landed their Jade Rabbit rover to explore the moon’s surface and nearly 300 feet below the surface with an advanced radar device. While this rover makes history for China, as the third country to make a soft landing on the moon (a mere 47 years behind the Former Soviet Union and the U.S.), India is in close pursuit. In fact, India has boasted plans to put a man on the moon by 2017, which is before China’s, already behind schedule, 2020 hopes.

This surge of interstellar interest seems to be in conjunction with NASA’s Curiosity rover cruising around Mars. The question is: why all the sudden interest in space exploration?

Let’s be honest, very few people were paying attention to NASA in the late 90s and 2000s until the press releases about shutting down the shuttle program rang through the media from 2011 until earlier this year. The resurgence seems to be a combination of public outcry for continued manned missions and some charismatic astronauts, like Commander Chris Hadfield (see below).

The public misunderstanding seemed to be that NASA was stopping space exploration all-together, which if you take a five-minute cruise through PD&D’s site, you’ll know is not the case.

What this leads me to is something Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and NASA spokesperson, has been saying, “We have stopped dreaming.” In a way, he is correct, but the public lashing out at canning manned space missions (even if it was/is temporary) clearly says that we, as a nation, still want to dream.

Tyson, as well as Dr. Michio Kaku (and many other scientists and philosophers) have said that a society that needs and uses technology without understanding it is incredibly dangerous. We are on the verge of being that society, but it can be said that China may already neck deep in such a situation.

With all the political, internet, and talking-head balking that has been happening about China eclipsing the U.S., both scientifically and economically, they are still a good lap behind us (to speak metaphorically). But, we have been on our current lap for more than twenty years… eventually, somebody is bound to catch us if we continue at this pace – be it China, India, or some other country (Uzbekistan even has a space program).

Now, private companies, like SpaceX and Google have taken up the space race as well. But, the race has changed since the 1960s. It’s no longer who can get somewhere the fastest (again, we beat China by nearly 50 years), but rather sustainability. In this way, it is vital for those working on space exploration and science to keep the attention of the fickle American public.

Mars One has seen the power of spectacle as they hope to, in essence, create a reality show based on the red planet, and fund said exploration with the ad sales. While this concept might be far-fetched, witnessing the current space race and developments therein seem to prove otherwise.

Our future in space exploration is certainly far from over, and as private companies work jointly with our government-funded programs, it seems comfortable to stay optimistic about our lead position. But, the new space race is upon us, and we need to keep progress moving toward a sustainable and technologically forward-thinking future.