International Robotic Rivalry in Space
It has to be some sort of record. At no time over the five decades of sending robot craft into the space have so many spacecraft been on duty at such a variety of far-flung destinations or en route to their targets.
Ballistic buckshot of science gear is now strewn throughout the solar system — and in some cases, like Voyager hardware — have exited our cosmic neighborhood to become an interstellar mission. But the march of time has also meant that more nations have honed the skills and know-how to explore the solar system. For example, Europe has dispatched probes to the Moon, Mars and Venus — and their Rosetta spacecraft is on a 10-year journey to investigate a comet in 2014.
Meanwhile, Japan's Kaguya and China's Chang'e 1 lunar orbiters have each just settled into an aggressive campaign of surveying the Moon. India is set to orbit the Moon in 2008 and the German space agency is also prepping for a future robotic lunar mission as is the United Kingdom.
All this action at the Moon — including the rekindling of Russian and U.S. lunar missions — bodes well for bolder ventures ever-deeper into the solar system by multiple nations. And there are other signals stemming from all this outbound traffic.