The space race is on!

The Space Race is not only alive and kicking today but back on the priority list of most countries. A stroll at the recent World Expo held in Dubai quickly highlights these initiatives


In the late 60s, a man took his first steps on our nearest satellite, the moon. This feat pretty much cooled off the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. It doesn’t mean that activity stopped or we managed to conquer space, far from it! In fact, in the following years, different countries launched hundreds of satellites, we witnessed the creation of the International Space Station, and various missions ventured into the darkness of space.

However, it seems that the Space Race is not only alive and kicking today but back on the priority list of most countries. A stroll at the recent World Expo held in Dubai quickly highlights these initiatives.

The United States exhibited a rock sample from the moon, brought back to Earth by the Apollo Mission. They also proudly showcase a replica of the Mars Rover and a 43 meters tall SpaceX rocket. I guess the message is explicit. NASA is currently the only space agency that has been able to land astronauts successfully on the moon, and it seems that they are working hard to do the same on Mars. Furthermore, they intend to reach this ambitious goal with SpaceX, the private company owned by Elon Musk, ushering a new era of commercial space missions.

Russia, too, is celebrating its space legacy by displaying a replica of Sputnik, the first satellite in space.

China is sending a bold message when they portray space as a continuation of their profound civilisation. Visitors can admire small models of the Chinese Chang’e lunar landers and the Tianwen-1 Mars mission. There is also an impressive video that highlights the milestones of their space exploration, emphasising the Beidou navigation satellites and the Zhurong Mars rover, to name a few.

India is showing their new human spaceflight program with various models of their Indian spacecraft, launch vehicles, satellites and the Mangalyaan Mars orbiter. They will use the spacesuit on display during the first crewed launch in 2023.

The Emirates created a Mars Corridor to celebrate their achievements based around the journey of the Hope Probe, their first Mars orbiter. They also organised several public meetings with astronauts.

On the other hand, Italy exhibits a Vega rocket model and boasts a robotic arm that will operate on the Red Planet during the second ExoMars 2020 space mission. Its function will be to drill as far as 2 meters into the Martian surface in search of signs of life.

Switzerland is tackling a different task, an orbital debris removal called ClearSpace-1 developed by a Swiss firm to recover a launch adapter left in orbit after a Vega launch.

Both Belgium and France are celebrating their astronauts. The former honours astronaut Frank De Winne and the latter exhibits a spacesuit worn by astronaut Thomas Pesquet on his first trip to space on the Soyuz.

Finally, the mobility pavilion, which celebrates all forms of transportation, has a colossal mural that emphasises the heroic astronauts walking on distant planets with rockets racing overhead. So it’s evident that the next technological race will happen in space, particularly somewhere close to the Red Planet.

2021 was also an important year for Malta since the University of Malta embarked on two projects. The Institute of Space Sciences and Astronomy released its first stratospheric balloon called Stratos-1 in the upper atmosphere to help document climate change. During the same year, the Department of Applied Biomedical Science launched Project Maleth. They managed to send to the International Space Station an experiment that uses the environment in space to study fundamental biomedical science questions that can have implications to real-world clinical problems. Of course, this is just the first step, and soon, we will be able to witness even more complicated investigations with the help of Artificial Intelligence.

But the race is accelerating, and at the beginning of 2022, Malta also launched a National Space Strategy open for consultation. The aim is not to launch rockets any time soon but to explore ways government can open up the economy for affiliated sectors. This, of course, involves a lot of hard work by Maltese researchers who, together with their counterparts abroad, will harness the massive potential of space.

Whereas a century ago, going abroad was just a dream that very few could afford. Today, space is in the same stage. I can only dream of maybe one day floating around in zero gravity. But by opening up opportunities, I know that my daughter should not limit herself to just dreaming about space but can one day have a career in the booming space industry. Like all the other children, she should aspire to go to other satellites or planets and even explore the immensity of space where no man has gone before!

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