Now that the Space Shuttle program is over, space agencies around the world are searching for the next great mission. Here in the United States, NASA has created a new Space Launch System while steadily outsourcing satellite launches and space exploration to commercially oriented private ventures like Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Foreign space agencies around the world have boosted their research funding since space travel provides a handy (if expensive) way of simultaneously strengthening local scientific research while appealing to the patriotism of the masses. But it’s not all outsourcing and research: Several foreign space agencies are embarking on new projects involving manned spaceflight and out-there exploration.
This past summer, Iran announced plans to send a monkey into space. A Safir rocket containing a space capsule with a rhesus monkey inside is expected to be launched shortly. The space capsule launch was expected for late summer 2011, but appears to have been delayed. Iran has previously launched satellites into space and small scientific flights containing turtles and worms. American, Israeli, European Union, and Saudi Arabian officials have publicly expressed concerns that rocket technology from the space program could be used in a future war. Iran’s space program is highly secretive, and relatively little scientific literature has been made available in either Persian or English.
India, meanwhile, is in the middle of an ambitious lunar program. An Indian lunar probe, the Chandrayaan-1, landed on the moon in 2008 and a second lunar probe is expected to be launched by 2014. The Chandrayaan-2 will be a joint Indian-Russian project; the Russian government aggressively courts foreign partners for space travel projects. Both India and regional rivals China are currently planning to launch separate manned lunar missions by 2020. Funding has already been allocated for the manned moon mission; much like as in the United States, the Indian space program has come under criticism for heavy costs and diverting funds away from social projects.
But while India is aiming to put a man on the moon, China plans to send a satellite to Mars. A Martian probe, the Yinghuo-1, is slated for a November launch and will mainly conduct research into the past existence of water. China has previously launched a lunar satellite and has been vocal about the development of a space program that does not rely on Russian or American assistance. Meanwhile, China has also announced plans to put a small space station into orbit, as well as ambiguous plans for a manned Mars mission by 2030.