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Exploration of space can be hastened by teamwork

By Barry He | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-07-22 10:41
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Photo taken by the rover Yutu 2 (Jade Rabbit-2) on Jan 11, 2019 shows the lander of the Chang'e 4 probe. [Photo/Xinhua/China National Space Administration]

The start of this year was a good week for fans of international space exploration.

The United States space agency NASA managed to send the space probe New Horizons past the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, a ring of asteroid particles and cold icy matter.

NASA sent another probe into the orbit of the asteroid Bennu, a task that required the equivalent accuracy of shooting a projectile from Los Angeles and landing it on a flying mosquito's wing in New York.

The Chinese National Space Administration also achieved a first for humanity that made headlines worldwide, when a craft landed on the far side of the moon, thanks to sophisticated hazard perception technology.

The Chang'e rover, named after the Chinese moon goddess, sent back stunning, never-before-seen images of the surface of the far side of the moon, and it confirmed many scientific hunches about the theoretical history of this mysterious part of our celestial backyard.

Six months on from those events, the world's space organizations are still hard at work racing toward the stars - but this is not a straightforward, linear progression.

To quote former US president John F. Kennedy, we do not do these things "because they are easy, but because they are hard".

On July 15, India was forced to delay the launch of the Chandrayaan 2 mission to the moon's south pole, due to technical difficulties and safety concerns.

Despite this, 2019 continues to be a year in which the spirit of space endeavor seems to be recapturing imaginations around the world. The potential benefits and subsequent, far-reaching plans are nothing short of extraordinary.

China's success in landing on the far side of the moon means it will now look to send manned missions there.

The far side of the moon is shielded from electromagnetic radiation emitting from Earth, so it provides the perfect site to build an observation point to look deep into space and the farthest reaches of the cosmos without interference.

The manned operation is expected to take place in the mid-2030s, and the European Space Agency has expressed interest in working with China to make this a reality.

NASA, on the other hand, has its sights set on a manned mission to Mars.

This would be a huge step for human beings to set foot on another planet, and could have huge implications for the survival of our species and our destiny as an interplanetary, and one day perhaps interstellar, civilization.

The question of whether Mars once supported life could be a step closer to being answered.

Earlier this month, however, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said humans would be on Mars right now had it not been for hesitancy over the cost. It has now been almost 50 years since the last human being set foot on the moon in 1972.

We should be excited that we live in a time when plans have seemingly turned into action, and the wheels of progress are once again turning.

Potential collaborations such as between the European Space Agency and the Chinese National Space Administration can only further accelerate such projects and share the benefits across the globe. US President Donald Trump has said that putting an American flag on Mars would mean a great deal for Americans. But working together may make the journey sweeter and shorter.

The author is a London-based columnist. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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