Asia's Space Race

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The second-ever manned Chinese space flight is slated to carry two astronauts on a five-day journey circling Earth, while they conduct experiments on pig sperm. But the flight's importance reaches far beyond any advances in animal husbandry that may result from exposing hog semen to weightlessness. It is the latest shot fired in a fiercely competitive space showdown between China and Japan.

The contest may not be accompanied by the blaring cold-war overtones of the last great space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. China's space program is conducted largely in secret, and Japan's modest achievements...