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The global space race: Is the 'final frontier' the financial frontier?

This 2005 photo shows India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle on a launch pad of the Indian Space Research Organization at Sriharikota, about 110 kilometers northeast of Madras, India. (AP/M. Lakshman)
With all the hoopla over last week’s successful touchdown of NASA’s rover Curiosity on the gravelly surface of Mars, you might forget that the U.S. space agency has experienced big cuts to its budget in recent times. The success of the Mars mission might also make you wonder whether accusations that the United States has lost its mojo on the space front are unwarranted and unfounded.

But there’s a much bigger story at play here, and it’s increasingly a lot less about us here in the United States.  Nations across the globe, and commercial bodies, have increasingly become bigger players in the proverbial and literal space race.  When once there were but two main bodies – the United States and the former Soviet Union – dominating our upper atmosphere (and beyond), there are now numerous nations making their ways up to the starry sky.

But why are so many countries hoping to get up in space?  Rocket launches and space exploration are still incredibly expensive, and it is nearly impossible without the financial backing of a nation.  Even Europe, a continent of many wealthy nations, decided to come together for its joint space program, the European Space Agency (ESA).

So what’s driving the nations of this world to get into space?

Monday on Worldview:

Subrata Ghoshroy, research associate with science technology and society at MIT, joins Worldview to help answer some of these questions.

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