'We choose to go to the Moon ... and do the other things too," declared the US president John F Kennedy, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." The other things in the USA of 2010 include rescuing banks and spending $700 billion on defence, which means hard times for Nasa. The US president Barack Obama has scuttled plans to build the next generation of space shuttle, the Ares I rocket. The return to the Moon proposed by the Bush administration has also been grounded.
There are several others who appear ready to pick up where Nasa has left off. Last week the Indian Space Research Organisation asked for government approval to fund a manned space flight for 2016. India launched its first satellite to orbit the Moon in 2008, joining a select group of nations to have done so. Still, India is a long way from surpassing or even replicating the feats of America's Apollo missions or launch of telescopes such as the Hubble that changed how we view the universe. But India's booming hi-tech sector and growing economy mean that manned space flight in this decade and more complicated missions in the future are not just starry-eyed ambitions.
Just as the world has changed since the end of the Cold War, so has the nature of the space race and the forces that drive it. As the UAE has shown, space exploration may also be funded by private enterprise. Last year Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments bought a 32 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic. One of Sir Richard Branson's more ambitious ventures, Virgin Galactic plans to build a spaceport in the UAE that will serve as a hub for space tourism.
Mr Obama has also shown his support for public/private partnerships in space. His budget cuts certain Nasa programmes but invests $6 billion in space ventures in the private sector. As more governments pursue this approach, one hopes that the space race can be the basis for collaboration between nations rather than a venue for do-or-die competition as it was in decades past. That may be a pipe dream. When Kennedy proposed a journey to the Moon five decades ago, many said the same thing.