FIFTY years ago today Apollo 11 was heading home to world acclaim after the historic landing on the Moon.
Less than four years later, public interest had waned, political and financial realities kicked in, and Nasa axed its last three lunar missions.
But today, human space travel is back on the agenda. Although British tech and expertise is at the forefront, we have no plans of our own to go to infinity and beyond.
Here, expert Colin Stuart looks at who is leading the 21st century Space Race.
TEN years ago, India’s Chandrayaan-1 probe beat Nasa to be first to discover water on the Moon.
Chandrayaan-2 is due to launch today. A rover will map the lunar surface for 15 days, looking for more evidence of water.
Success would make India only the fourth nation, after the US, Soviets and China, to land a rover on the Moon. And by 2024, India plans to journey to Mars.
But it is not only sending machines. The first Indian astronaut in 38 years could go into orbit in 2022.
Rakesh Sharma was first – on the Soviet Salyut 7 space station in 1984.
THE Japanese space agency has joined with Toyota to build a Moon car. The two-seat dream machine could be ready by 2029.
Huge solar panels would give it a range of 6,000 miles and a pressurised cabin would mean the astronauts would not have to wear spacesuits. Japan is also making space history elsewhere.
Last month its Hayabusa-2 probe landed two tiny bots on “near Earth” asteroid Ryugu, 180million miles away.
The craft will return samples to Earth next year for scientists to study.
THE Soviets were first to put a human into orbit – Yuri Gagarin in 1961 – but Russia is struggling to find its place in the new space race.
It is developing a powerful new rocket, Soyuz-5, which could be ready by 2022. Russia is still working with the Americans on the ISS, but could look to China if it keeps on making key strides.
Building work is almost complete on Vostochny Cosmodrome, a space port in Russia’s far east.
It will replace their current launch pad, which they are forced to lease from Kazakhstan.
CHINA has huge ambitions in space. Last week they allowed their Tiangong-2 space station to burn up over the Pacific after three years in orbit.
Next year the Tianhe-1 module will launch. It is the first part of a live-in satellite that could rival the International Space Station.
In January, China landed the first rover on the far side of the Moon. On board were cotton seeds that briefly sprouted into plants.
China makes no secret of its mission to land “taikonauts” on the Moon. They may even do it before the Americans.
WHERE some see stars, others see dollar signs. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Tesla chief Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson own space travel companies which will soon offer paying punters the chance of a giant leap. Prices will start at a quarter of a million bucks.
The plans have not been smooth. Virgin boss Branson’s SpaceShipTwo broke up in 2014, killing the co-pilot.
He now hopes to run more test flights this autumn. Passengers will see the sky go black in daytime and experience weightlessness.
There is also talk of colonising Mars as an alternative home for humanity from as early as 2024.
Musk, who is ploughing cash into his SpaceX rockets, says he wants to die on The Red Planet.
NO one has left their boot prints in lunar dust since 1972. It may not be too long until that changes – with those Americans at it again.
Nasa’s Artemis program hopes to see astronauts return to the Moon by 2024.
Last week US Vice President Mike Pence revealed the design for the Orion capsule, that will carry them there.
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The mission is likely to include the first female astronaut to go to the Moon.
Then there is the “Gateway” project – living quarters orbiting the Moon. From their lunar space home, astronauts could operate robots on the surface.
Both missions will be good practice for sending the first humans to Mars in the 2030s.
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