Forty five years after man first walked on the moon, a new space race is beginning to take shape – by Peter Kavanagh, (National Post – July 22, 2014)

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It was our first truly global village moment, and it didn’t even take place on the planet.

Forty five years ago this past weekend, July 20th, 1969, at 20:18 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), half a billion people sat around radios or television screens, or stood, outside, eyes scanning the sky. I was one of them, moving back and forth between the TV in our living room and our front yard where I could stare straight into the sky and see the moon. I remember the moment — which I can (and do) relive on YouTube — and the incredible, quiet excitement when, while holding my breath and watching the slow, agonizingly descent, I heard the words, “Houston … Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

What we were all really waiting for, though, was the extreme rush that came six hours later when Neil Armstrong stepped down on to the surface of the moon and uttered that now famous phrase, “That’s one small step for man … one giant leap for mankind.” It was amazing, stunning, excruciatingly exciting. Every science-fiction story written had been made real, palpable and possible on that summer’s night. Everyone and anyone could dream about going to the stars, and no longer be dismissed as simply a dreamer. Having one’s head in the clouds lost its sting, briefly, as an insult.

And the world cheered … well, part of the world cheered. After all, despite the “We are all in it together” sentiment of Armstrong’s quote, landing on the moon was a key component of the space race, an adjunct of the Cold War. America’s accomplishment was, for the Soviets, a bitter defeat. The race, after all, was a propaganda play and the marketing of the race to the moon was as much a part of the effort as the engineering. The Americans won, and the Soviets lost.

Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones who would ultimately be disappointed. For those of us who really believed that we were going to the stars, that we were on the verge of making real the opening lines of Star Trek, “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise,” disillusionment was just around the corner. Within three years, all that excitement, passion, and enthusiasm that had helped propel Apollo 11 to the moon would begin to wane. The space program would start to be moved to the back burner, and eventually, almost right off the stove. By 1972 the space race was effectively over, the moon abandoned as even an object of desire, and cost-cutting politicians with deficits to tame came to think of shooting for the stars as a luxury unworthy of the price in lives or treasure.

NASA has done good work since, sending robots and probes to distant planets and moons, and has accomplished a lot of very interesting and worthwhile science during its space shuttle and space station programs. But the thrill of human exploration? Long gone.

But now, 45 years after the Eagle touched down with all of 25 seconds worth of fuel left in its tanks, a new space race is shaping up.

All the key national players — Russia, the United States, China, India and the European Union — are in the game, and for the same old reason: However they may gussy it up, national space programs remain driven by a mixture of national security interests and bragging rights. The latest emerging participant, the United Arab Emirates, also clearly understands what can be at stake for a nation, and has announced the creation of a new UAE space agency and a mission to Mars by 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE.

They’re thinking big in terms of their own space propaganda campaign, observing that the launch of the first Arab space mission will demonstrate that the Arab “destiny is, once again, to explore, to create, to build and to civilize. We chose the epic challenge of reaching Mars because epic challenges inspire us and motivate us. The moment we stop taking on such challenges is the moment we stop moving forward.”

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