The Chinese President just completed a historic visit to India, marked by new bonhomie, but with a tense stand-off on the border. It is not known to many that there is intense competition between the two regional rivals even in outer space. (See Pics)
Behind the smiles and handshakes on Earth, the two big powers of Asia -- India and China -- have been racing in space. As India's Mangalyaan prepares to enter the Martian orbit on September 24, there is no doubt that in the sprint for the marathon to the Red Planet, India has taken a definite lead; the Indian elephant is lumbering ahead of the Red Dragon. (Also See: Mangalyaan's Date with Mars: September 24)
There are both planetary and geo-political reasons for this hurry. India, Japan and China all are racing to become the first Asian country to reach Mars.
The first Chinese mission to Mars called Yinghuo-1 failed in 2011 alongside the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission with which it was launched; in 1998, the Japanese mission to Mars ran out of fuel and was lost. So can India become the first Asian nation to reach Mars?
K Radhakrishnan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO, says, "We are racing with ourselves to get into the next level of excellence".
Indeed, this is a landmark deal since both India and China offer complementary strengths. China has bigger and better rockets and India makes sophisticated and durable satellites. If both join hands -- in what could be Prime Minister Narendra Modi's new push of 'make in India' - both could together take on global giants like the United States and France who have captured the multi-billion dollar global space market.
ISRO's arguments -- that they are not racing to reach pole position -- certainly don't sound convincing. This satellite was made ready in a record 15 months to ensure India catches the first opportune launch window last year.
ISRO will never declare it but there is a great Asian Space race that is taking place, China has beaten India in all aspects but in the Martian marathon, India is inching closer to the finish line.
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