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Game

‘Diablo Immortal’ delayed indefinitely in China just before its planned release date

 was supposed to debut in China on June 23rd, but those who have been waiting for the game in the country will need to wait longer. NetEase, which co-developed the game with Blizzard, has pushed back the release date indefinitely. It that “the development team is making a number of optimization adjustments.”

However, there are other factors at play. NetEase found itself in the bad graces of China’s censors over a post on its Weibo social media service that seemingly referenced Winnie the Pooh, according to the . The cartoon character is used to mock Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In the wake of a screenshot of the post (which read “why hasn’t the bear stepped down?”) gaining traction, the official Diablo Immortal Weibo account was banned from posting anything. Discussions related to the post were also wiped from the service.

Currently, Diablo Immortal does not have a release date in China, though NetEase still expects to ship the game in the country. It promised players an “exclusive thank-you package containing legendary equipment” as a makegood for the delay.

The PC and mobile title debuted in other territories this month. According to reports, it raked in in two weeks as a result of its aggressive approach to monetization. China is the biggest gaming market on the planet and not being able to release Diablo Immortal there would likely have a severe impact on the game’s expected revenues. NetEase declined to comment to the Financial Times. Engadget has contacted Blizzard for comment.

It’s not the first time a game developer has run into issues with Chinese regulators over a Winnie the Pooh reference. Publisher Indievent to sell Devotion in China, leading it to cut ties with developer Red Candle Games, which included a blatant dig at Xi in the game itself. The studio, which is based in Taiwan, later a DRM-free version of Devotion on its own storefront.

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Game

Fortnite will be shut down in China later this month

Hit battle royale game Fortnite will be shut down in China later this month, Tencent and Epic Games have revealed. The news was posted in a short, surprising message on the website for the Chinese version of the game. Fans weren’t given much notice, as downloads and new registrations for the title have already been removed and players only have two weeks left to enjoy the game.

The decision to shut down Fortnite in China was announced on October 31; the game’s new registrations and download portals were taken offline today, November 1, and the game’s servers will go offline on November 15. That puts the battle royale game’s shutdown right around its two-year anniversary in China, though it remains massively popular in many other countries.

The Chinese version of Fortnite differed from the one players experience in other countries like Europe and the Americas. Some notable game mechanics are featured in the Chinese version of the battle royale title, including a separate health bar specifically for the storm. As well, and contrary to the rest of the battle royale genre, multiple players can get a Victory Royale in China’s version of Fortnite.

Though China has a massive population of gamers, the country isn’t terribly hospitable to the game industry and, among other things, can make it difficult to monetize titles. Fortnite isn’t the first battle royale game that has struggled in the nation, with PUBG notably lacking monetization until its transformation into a wildly different — and far more patriotic — title called Game for Peace.

Tencent’s announcement about the game’s closure in China doesn’t include a reason for the decision, but it is likely one that at least partially involves monetization issues. Fortnite in China doesn’t include any microtransactions. Another potential reason may involve China’s newly introduced and substantially stricter regulations on gaming applied to those under the age of 18.

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Computing

Walk the Great Wall of China in Google’s Latest Virtual Tour

If your pandemic-related precautions still prevent you from traveling but you’d like to take a trip somewhere far away, then how about diving into the latest virtual tour from Google Arts & Culture?

The Street View-style experience features a 360-degree virtual tour of one of the best-preserved sections of the Great Wall, which in its entirety stretches for more than 13,000 miles — about the round-trip distance between Los Angeles and New Zealand.

A section of China’s Great Wall. Google Arts & Culture

The new virtual tour includes 370 high-quality images of the Great Wall, together with 35 stories offering an array of architectural details about the world-famous structure.

“It’s a chance for people to experience parts of the Great Wall that might otherwise be hard to access, learn more about its rich history, and understand how it’s being preserved for future generations,” Google’s Pierre Caessa wrote in a blog post announcing the new content.

The wall was used to defend against various invaders through the ages and took more than 2,000 years to build. The structure is often described as “the largest man-made project in the world.”

But climate conditions and human activities have seen a third of the UNESCO World Heritage site gradually crumble away, though many sections of the wall are now being restored so that it can be enjoyed and appreciated for years to come.

Google Arts & Culture has been steadily adding to its library of virtual tours, which can be enjoyed on mobile and desktop devices. The collection includes the The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks and an immersive exploration of some the world’s most remote and historically significant places.

If you’re looking for more content along the same lines, then check out these virtual-tour apps that transport you to special locations around the world, and even to outer space.

Editors’ Choice




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Game

Tencent taps facial recognition to stop kids in China from gaming past curfew

Tencent has announced that it is now using facial recognition to enforce China’s gaming curfew for minors, one that forces them to play games only during allotted hours during the day and to turn off their games by 10 PM. The law, which has proven controversial within China and beyond, doesn’t apply to adults.

In November 2019, China’s government announced new regulations that would prevent minors under the age of 18 from playing games outside of the hours of 8 AM to 10 PM. As well, the restrictions limit minors to only 90 minutes of gameplay per day. The only exception is national holidays during which minors are allowed to play for up to three hours during the day.

These rules have, as you’d expect, proven controversial among many; some complaints on Chinese social media include the issue of older teens who are near 18 years old and who have finished their schooling, yet are still impacted by the gaming restriction. Under this law, China requires all gamers, including adults, to register their names and phone numbers for online games to aid in the enforcement of these restrictions.

In an announcement last week, Tencent said that it is now using a facial recognition system to spot kids who are still playing games after 10 PM, including those who may have registered as an adult or who may be using a parent’s phone. Failing the facial recognition or refusing to partake in it will result in being kicked offline.

Tencent said its facial recognition system is now live in more than 60 of its games, including titles like Peace Elite, and Glory of the King. Additional games will also get the age verification systems in the near future, according to the company. More than 5 million accounts were subjected to the facial recognition system as of June, Tencent said.

The verification system is part of China’s wider movement against video games. Under the same crackdown, China also banned anyone in the nation — including adults — from playing games that feature content like gambling, sexual explicitness, violence, and gore. If there’s an upside to the draconian system, it’s that minors are also limited to spending only up to $57/month on microtransactions.

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Tech News

The future of US AI policy may hinge on a fake war with a fictional China

War is coming. Later this year the US military will fight its most advanced war campaign ever as it faces off against a fictionalized version of China.

The battles will be fake, but the results should provide the government with everything it needs to justify the mass development of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS).

The era of government-controlled killer robots is upon us.

Up front: US military leaders have increasingly come out in support of taking humans out of the loop when it comes to AI-controlled weapons. And there’s nothing in the current US policy to stop that from happening.

Per the Federation of American Scientists:

Contrary to a number of news reports, U.S. policy does not prohibit the development or employment of LAWS. Although the United States does not currently have LAWS in its inventory, some senior military and defense leaders have stated that the United States may be compelled to develop LAWS in the future if potential U.S. adversaries choose to do so. At the same time, a growing number of states and nongovernmental organizations are appealing to the international community for regulation of or a ban on LAWS due to ethical concerns.

The Army has a program called “Project Convergence.” It’s mission is to tie the various military data, information, command, and control domains together in order to facilitate a streamlined battlefield.

A deep-dive into modern military tactics is beyond the scope of this article – but a short explanation is in order.

Background: Modern command and control is dominated by something called “the OODA loop.” OODA stands for “observe, orient, decide, and act.”

The OODA loop stops commanders from following the enemy into traps, it keeps us from firing on civilians, and it’s our strongest shield against friendly fire incidents.

The big idea: US military leaders fear the traditional human decision-making process may become obsolete because we can’t react as fast as an AI. The OODA Loop, theoretically, can be automated.

And that’s why Project Convergence will conduct a series of wargames this fall against a fictional country meant to represent China.

Some US military leaders fear China is developing LAWS technology and they assert that the People’s Republic won’t have the same ethical concerns as its potential adversaries.

In other words: The US military is planning to test our current military forces and AI systems – which require a human in the loop – against forces with AI systems that don’t.

Quick take: Project Convergence is playing chess against itself here. The fictional country US forces will wargame against in the fall may resemble China, but it was developed and simulated by the Pentagon.

What’s most important here is that you don’t have to be a military genius to know the country that skips OODA and just sends out entire fleets, armies, and squadrons of hair-trigger LAWS is likely to dominate the battlespace.

This is exactly what every AI ethicist has been warning about. Taking humans out of the loop and allowing LAWS to make the kill decision is more than just a slippery slope. It’s the next atomic bomb.

But when we “lose” the fight against the fake China, it’ll certainly be easier to sell Congress on taking humans and OODA out of the loop.

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Categories
AI

Artificial intelligence research continues to grow as China overtakes US in AI journal citations

The artificial intelligence boom isn’t slowing yet, with new figures showing a 34.5 percent increase in the publication of AI research from 2019 to 2020. That’s a higher percentage growth than 2018 to 2019 when the volume of publications increased by 19.6 percent.

China continues to be a growing force in AI R&D, overtaking the US for overall journal citations in artificial intelligence research last year. The country already publishes more AI papers than any other country, but the United States still has more cited papers at AI conferences — one indicator of the novelty and significance of the underlying research.

These figures come from the fourth annual AI Index, a collection of statistics, benchmarks, and milestones meant to gauge global progress in artificial intelligence. The report is collated with the help of Stanford University, and you can read all 222 pages here.

In many ways, the report confirms trends identified in past years: the sheer volume of AI research is growing across a number of metrics, China continues to be increasingly influential, and investors are pumping yet more money into AI firms.

However, details reveal subtleties about the AI scene. For example, while private investment in AI increased 9.3 percent in 2020 (a higher increase than 2018 to 2019 of 5.7 percent), the number of newly funded companies receiving funds decreased for the third year in a row. There are several ways to interpret this, but it suggests that investors expect that the winner-takes-all dynamic that has defined the tech industry — in which digital economies of scale tend to reward a few dominant players — will be replicated in the AI world.

The report’s section on technical advances also confirms the major trends in AI capabilities, the biggest of which is the industrialization of computer vision. This field has seen incredible progress during the AI boom, with services like object and facial recognition now commonplace. Similarly, generative technologies, which can create video, images, and audio, continue to increase in quality and availability. As the report notes, this trend “promises to generate a tremendous range of downstream applications of AI for both socially useful and less useful purposes.” Useful applications include cheaper computer-generated media, while malicious outcomes include misinformation and AI revenge porn.

One area of AI research that seems like it’s just beginning to come into its own is biotech. The drug discovery and design sector received the most private investment of any sector in 2020 ($13.8 billion, 4.5 times more than in 2019), and experts canvassed for AI Index’s report cited DeepMind’s AlphaFold program, which uses machine learning to fold proteins, as one of the most significant breakthroughs in AI in 2020. (The other frequently cited breakthrough last year was OpenAI’s text-generation program GPT-3.)

One area where the Index AI report struggles to gauge progress, though, is in ethics. This is a wide-ranging area, spanning everything from the politics of facial recognition to algorithmic bias, and discussion of these topics is increasingly prominent. In 2020, stories like Google’s firing of researcher Timnit Gebru and IBM’s exit from the facial recognition business drove discussions of how AI technology should be applied. But while companies are happy paying lip service to ethical principles, the report notes that most of these “commitments” are non-binding and lack institutional frameworks. As has been noted in the past: AI ethics for many companies is simply a way to slow roll criticism.

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AI

China fund managers rely on AI to manage trading data and pick stocks

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(Reuters) — Chinese fund managers, grappling with a rapidly-growing list of publicly-traded securities and mountains of data, are rapidly embracing machine learning and other types of artificial intelligence (AI) to boost efficiency and bolster returns.

From using computers for analyzing news and research reports and crunching numbers to getting robots to pick stocks, the move comes as foreign players are expanding their footprint in China’s $3.4-trillion mutual fund industry.

While AI has already been widely used in China’s mammoth e-commerce and manufacturing sectors, it is now being adopted by asset managers as Beijing aims to digitize the economy further and close the technology gap with the western world.

Last week, Zheshang Fund Management launched a fund that uses robots to predict the market outlook and select stocks. It came after China Asset Management (ChinaAMC) announced its partnership with Toronto-based AI company Boosted.ai.

“I think it’s a must. Every major player is actively looking for AI solutions. The competition is really tough,” said Bill Chen, chief data officer of ChinaAMC, which managed $246 billion worth of assets at the end of last year.

Global fund managers such as BlackRock have been using computer artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze fundamentals, market sentiment and macroeconomic policies in the last couple of years to get an investment edge.

“Companies like BlackRock have very powerful, advanced technology. They are leading us in AI for sure, by at least several years,” said Chen. “But I think we understand the Chinese market better.”

Fund managers’ increased usage of AI in the world’s second-largest economy comes as Beijing is stepping up digitalization drive, a trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and as it increasingly clashes with the West over technology policy.

China’s stock market listing reforms have boosted the number of public companies, leading to a data explosion that also fuels demand for AI, said Zhou Yu, chief product officer of ABC Fintech, a Beijing-based AI company.

ABC Fintech counts asset managers such as China Universal Asset Management and Hwabao WP Fund Management Co as clients, and serves as their data factory, Yu said.

Regulatory challenges

Growing investments into AI are also being fueled by early signs of success.

Zheshang Fund’s first AI-powered fund, Zheshang Intelligent Industry Preferred Hybrid Fund has gained 68.34% since its launch in Sept 2019, according to its Q1 report, compared with a 21.64% gain in its benchmark, which is a combination of stock and bond indexes.

The fund has built an “AI Beehive strategy model” in which robots team up like humans to buy stocks. More than 400 robots compete for the right to make decisions as their models constantly evolve through trial and error.

Peter Shepard, managing director at MSCI Research, said that instead of providing super-human intelligence, AI provides super-human scale that will open up fresh sources of information that drive new levels of insight and efficiency.

“These new tools on their own can’t predict the future any better than people can, but they are key to unlocking new, alternative and unstructured data sets that will continue to transform the investment process.”

“AI will be an important edge,” said Larry Cao, senior director at CFA Institute, who authored several reports on AI-powered investing. “The hard truth with AI is that the bigger firms can invest a lot more resources.”

Some Chinese industry officials, however, expressed concerns that the use of machine learning algorithms to pick stocks and better returns could run into regulatory challenges.

“From a regulatory perspective, you need to go through a lot of compliance procedures. You need to write reports on your decision making. Some AI-powered models are like black boxes, and unexplainable,” said Yu of ABC Fintech.

“That’s hardly acceptable to regulators.”

As learning algorithms are increasingly used in trading rooms, local fund managers are working with regulators to try to design new standards for the industry.

“One of the main barriers we face … is that we are so highly regulated,” ChinaAMC’s Chen said. “Every decision you make, you have to be responsible for that decision, and you should be able to explain a decision when you lose money.”

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Categories
Tech News

How Apple reportedly gave up control of iCloud for business growth in China

China is one of the biggest markets in the world for Apple’s products. In its recent quarterly results, the company registered a whopping $17.7 billion in iPhone sales in the region.

However, this stellar business performance comes at a cost of user privacy and ceding control over its own ecosystem. According to a new report from The New York Times, Apple gave in to China’s multiple demands, including custom hardware for iCloud and app removals.

The report noted that Tim Cook caved in to China’s demand of storing iCloud data of China-based customers in the country —Apple wanted to keep that data in the US. While storing user data locally is a common practice across the globe, Apple allegedly handed over iCloud’s encryption key to China and made it easier to retrieve user data.

This is unlike Apple in the US, where it has constantly battled with authorities to keep their hands off iPhone users’ data. The NYT report noted that the iPhone maker created a special loophole to give the government access to data: it partnered with a government-affiliated Guizhou-Cloud Big Data as a service provider. Plus, it made changes to the iCloud service agreement that included the clause, “Apple and GCBD will have access to all data that you store on this service.”

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Tech News

China to land a rover on Mars in mid-May — here’s how it’ll work

For the first few months of 2021, the Martian atmosphere was buzzing with new visitors from Earth. First, it was the UAE Space Agency’s Hope probe, followed by the Chinese Tianwen-1 entering orbit.

More recently, Nasa landed the biggest-ever rover on Mars, as well as its companion, an ingenious helicopter. Both have been setting new milestones since.

The next visitor to the planet will be Tianwen-1 mission’s lander, which will attempt to reach the surface of Mars in mid-May. To enter the Martian atmosphere, it will use a slightly different technique to previous missions.

Landing on Mars is notoriously dangerous – more missions have failed than succeeded. A successful Mars landing requires entering the atmosphere at very high speeds, then slowing the spacecraft down just the right way as it approaches its landing location.

This phase of the mission, known as entry-descent-landing, is the most critical. Previous missions have used several different ways of Martian atmospheric entry.

Perfecting entry to Mars’s atmosphere has been helped by the experience of returning spacecraft to Earth. Earth may have a significantly different atmosphere to Mars, but the principles remain the same.

A spacecraft orbiting a planet will be moving very fast, to keep itself bound to that orbit. But if the spacecraft entered an atmosphere at such high speed, even one as thin as Mars’s, it would burn up. Anything entering the atmosphere needs to be slowed down significantly and to get rid of the heat generated during this brief journey. There are several ways to go about it.

Spacecraft are protected from the heat generated during atmospheric entry using heat shields. Various missions in the past have used techniques such as absorbing heat, an insulating coating, reflecting the heat back into the atmosphere, or by ablation – burning up the shield material.

From Apollo missions of the 1960s to the more recent SpaceX’s Dragon, these techniques have been used successfully, and they work really well for Earth. But when it comes to Mars, engineers need to employ some additional measures.

Landing on Mars

Orbiters are designed to monitor a planet’s surface from orbit and act as a communications relay station. When approaching a planet, the spacecraft is usually directed along successively smaller elliptical orbits, slowing down each time, until it reaches its target orbit. This technique can also be used to lower the orbit of a spacecraft ahead of a lander’s atmospheric entry.

The entire maneuver occurs over a few months and doesn’t need any additional equipment – an efficient way to conserve fuel. Since it uses the planet’s upper atmosphere to apply brakes, it’s called ‘aerobraking.’ Aerobraking has been used for various Mars missions including ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Aerobraking can significantly slow down the spacecraft, but for missions with rovers to land, it gets more complicated. On Mars, the atmospheric density is just 1% of Earth and there are no oceans for the spacecraft to safely splash into. The blunt shape of the spacecraft alone is not enough to reduce the speed.

Previously, successful missions have used extra measures. Mars Pathfinder spacecraft used parachutes to decelerate, while relying on a unique airbag system that sprung into action in the final few seconds to absorb the landing shock. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed successfully on Mars with the same technique.

A few years later, the Curiosity rover used a new landing system. In the final few seconds, rockets were fired, allowing the spacecraft to hover while a tether – a skycrane – lowered the rover to the dusty Martian surface. This new system demonstrated the delivery of a heavy payload to Mars and paved the way for bigger missions.

More recently, the Perseverance rover which landed in early 2021, used the reliable skycrane as well as two more advanced technologies. These new features which used live images taken from its cameras enabled a more accurate, reliable and safer landing.

Zhurong: the ‘fire god’

The Chinese Tianwen-1 rover landing is the next Mars mission. The ambitious mission has orbiting, landing, and roving components – the first mission to include all three on its first attempt. It has already been circling the red planet since it entered Mars’s orbit on February 24 and will attempt to land its rover Zhurong – which means “fire god” – in mid-May.

In size, Zhurong falls between Spirit and the Perseverence and it is carrying six pieces of scientific equipment. After it lands, Zhurong will survey the surroundings to study Martian soil, geomorphology and atmosphere, and will look for signs of subsurface water ice.

Traditionally, the Chinese authorities don’t reveal a lot of information before the event. However, based on an early overview of the mission by some Chinese researchers, we know the landing sequence the spacecraft will attempt to follow.

On May 17, Zhurong – protected by an aeroshell (a protective shell surrounding the spacecraft which includes the heat shield) – will enter the atmosphere at a speed of 4 km/s. When it slows down enough, parachutes will be deployed. In the last phase of the sequence, rockets with variable thrust engines will be used for further deceleration.

In contrast with its American counterpart, Tianwen-1 will employ two reliable technologies – a laser range finder to work out where it is relative to Martian terrain and a microwave sensor to determine its speed more accurately. These will be used for navigational correction during its parachuted descent phase. During the powered descent phase at the end, optical and Lidar imaging will assist in hazard detection.

Just before touchdown, an automated obstacle avoidance sequence will start to ensure a soft landing. If the mission is successful, China will be the first country to land a rover on Mars on its first attempt. A few days after that, Zhurong will be ready to explore the surface.

This article by Deep Bandivadekar, PhD candidate, University of Strathclyde,  is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



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Tech News

This is why China and Russia want to build a base on the Moon

The Russian space agency Roscosmos and China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) recently agreed to establish lunar outposts on, and in orbit around, the Moon. This announcement comes as Russia prepares to mark the 60th anniversary of Yuri’s Night — the beginning of human spaceflight.

Roscosmos originated in 1991 from the dissolved soviet space program. The Soviet space agency accomplished a number of firsts, including launching the first satellite, as well as the first man, and woman, into space. In 1971, the USSR launched Salyut 1, the first space station, into orbit around Earth. The Soviet Union also played critical roles in the development of the International Space Station as that outpost morphed from Ronald Reagan’s original vision of an all-American space station Freedom.

Credit: CNSA

On February 10, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft arrived at Mars. Designed by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), this was the first mission to arrive at Mars with an orbiter, lander, and rover (although the lander and rover have not yet touched down on the surface of Mars). In December, a robotic mission from China collected samples from the Moon, returning them to Earth for analysis. This was the first time in 40 years this has been accomplished.

“Within the framework of creation of the ILRS, China and Russia will use their experience in space science, R&D and use of space equipment and technology to jointly formulate a road map for the construction of the ILRS, and carry out the close collaboration on planning, demonstration, design, development, implementation and operation of the ILRS, including the promotion of the project to the international space communities,” the CNSA reports.

The space agencies in each country have issued statements welcoming the development and shared their views on what may be the first massive structure to be constructed in lunar orbit.
Each nation is committed to combining their rich experiences in space science, research, and use of space technology to explore Mars, and develop an international moon-based station for scientific research. Both countries will be involved in the planning, conducting the design, development, and operation of the research station.

“China and Russia use joint experience and scientific technologies to create a roadmap for building an international research station on the Moon,” CNSA said in a statement posted on WeChat.

On April 12, the world will celebrate Yuri’s Night — the 60th anniversary of human spaceflight, as well as the 40th anniversary of the first flight of the Space Shuttle.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, The Russian Federation has lagged behind the US and China in the exploration of the Moon and Mars, and the nation is seeking to retake a leading role in the exploration of space.

Why a Lunar Station?

A lunar station could provide many benefits to the world space agencies and the people of those nations. It would serve as a practical step between our current capabilities and technologies need to, one day, colonize Mars. A permanent lunar outpost could serve as a base for a variety of activities such as the observations of the Sun and other astronomical objects, the study of Earth’s resources and environment, and other bodies in the Cosmos.

Building such an outpost would provide a research and proving ground for a variety of important advanced technologies and capabilities, including robotics, utilization of in-situ resources, resource depots, deep space units’ habitats, in-space propulsion, optical communication, space additive manufacturing (3D printing), and more.

During the “successful failure” of Apollo 13, the crew of this troubled spacecraft took stunning images of the lunar surface as they turned their sights back to Earth. Here are some of the video images they took while rounding the Moon in April 1970. Video by NASA.

The nature of the Moon and its resources, such as large quantities of water preserved in eternally-shaded craters, makes it a perfect base for lunar and subsequent Mars missions and other planetary activities.

The establishment of an International Lunar Station would signal an important breakthrough in transportation, high-value extraterrestrial resources, power and communications, crew habitats, and facilities that would significantly lower technical and financial risks for missions beyond the Moon.

And it would give the space programs of the world a much-needed clear, timely, and logical next step in the human exploration of space.

Still, More than 20 years Late for Space: 1999

The International Space Station has proven that people from all nations can survive — and work — together in space
Credit: NASA