Bangalore: The world is undoubtedly witnessing a twenty-first century Asian space race and the Indian elephant and the Chinese dragon are both competing furiously. India seems to have been beaten by China in every other aspect, but New Delhi may just beat Beijing in the race to Mars. (Also See: In Race to Mars, India May Just Beat China)
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".
During Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to India this week, a thaw could be witnessed as ISRO and the China National Space Administration inked an agreement that "enables both sides to encourage exchange and cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes, including research and development of scientific experiment satellites, remote sensing satellites and communications satellites".
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.