China isn't the only country eyeing a Heavenly Palace. Several developing nations are also creating space agencies and building rockets in hopes that one day they, too, may have citizens or satellites in space.
China launched its 8.5-ton space module Tiangong-1 on Thursday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwest of the country on board a Long March 2F rocket. It is an unmanned prototype for a future space station China plans to have up and running by 2020.
For more than four decades the United States has enjoyed unchallenged space dominance. China is slowly stealing that power and in a couple years, they may have to make way for others in South America, Africa and the Middle East. All these nations have already begun investing into science and technological innovations, with space as the winning prize.
Mexico's Agencia Espacial Mexicana is a new space program approved last April, becoming a part of a consortium of more than 40 countries sharing scientific, technological and financial resources for space exploration, Fast Company reported.
Similarly, Brazil is making some stir. The country began partnering with the UK in 2008 to include British camera RALCam-3 on its Earth observation satellite Amazonia-1. The countries also signed an agreement in 2007 to partner in science, technology and innovation.
Brazil, which is the world's 10th largest economy, is also investing $2 billion in human development through its Science Without Borders Program. Brazilian leaders are planning to give out 75,000 science and technology scholarships by the end of 2014, according to the journal Nature, and send students to 238 foreign universities to increase the number of science and engineering graduates.
We in developing countries should not expect to follow the research model that led to the scientific enterprise of the United States and elsewhere, José Goldemberg, a physical sciences professor at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, told the journal Science.
Rather, we need to adapt and develop technologies appropriate to our local circumstances, help strengthen education, and expand our roles as advisers in both government and industry, he added.
Brazil ranks at 13th in scientific production by the Institute for Scientific Information in New York. The country has an expanding economy, providing opportunities for scientific collaboration with other nations and bringing about a need for chemists, physicists, computer scientists and engineers, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, director of FAPESP, the Sao Paulo state research foundation, told Nature.
If we manage to send [just] 8,000 or 10,000 good students to have some experience abroad it's going to be a good thing for Brazil, Brito Cruz said.
South Africa and Nigeria are leading the space race in Africa. Both countries have opened space agencies and are planning to develop space technologies such as satellites.
Nigeria created National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) in 1999 for the development of space science and technology that would provide socio-economic benefits. The country already launched two satellites in August. The satellites, NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X will help with monthly crop monitoring.
South Africa has pledged to focus on developing an astronomy and space sector through its South African Space Agency. The agency is focused on space science and technology and will look into areas such earth observation, space operations, space science, space engineering, and space advancement to name a few.
Space.com reported that Iran's first launch attempt occurred in August 2008 with a two-stage rocket named Safir, which translates to Ambassador in Farsi, and a dummy satellite. The rocket failed shortly after liftoff, according to reports. But in February 2009, the country had success with the launch of the Safir-2 rocket, which placed an Omid satellite weighing about 44 to 60 pounds (20 to 27 kilograms) into low Earth orbit, according to Space.com.
While the U.S. won't be testing new space rocket for manned missions until about 2017, and Russia has deemed manned missions are not a priority, there is the opportunity for these countries to grow a new era of space exploration.
With NASA's shuttle program under scrutiny, especially since its 30-year space shuttle program retired this summer, successes in these countries may present the opportunity for a U.S. It may also push the U.S. to get back to its competitive days.
The U.S. is currently in a situation of refocusing its spaceflight efforts, Joan Johnson-Freese, chairwoman of the Department of National Security Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., told Mother Nature Network. We don't have the political will that China has right now. If there's a race going on, their advantage is through political will, not technology.