As technology makes the world smaller, it's also helping more countries escape to the heavens. (Ground control to Major Olawale!) But don't start daydreaming of UN meetings on Mars and space walks for peace: These space programs are all about blasting surveillance tech, comet chasers, super telescopes, and celestial probes into the (increasingly crowded) cosmos.
Program Founded: 1998
Budget: $93 million (initial funding)
Yes, Nigeria actually has its own space agency. The organization sent up its first satellite, a weather unit, back in 2003. In May 2007, China assisted in the launch of NigComSat-1, which helps provide Internet access to rural areas of the country.
Program Founded: 2002
France helped establish a constellation of desert launch sites more than 60 years ago. In 2002, the newly formed Agence Spatiale Algerienne blasted up Alsat-1, a 200-pound cube that has beamed back more than 1,000 photos as well as intel for disaster relief.
Program Founded: 1983
Budget: $50 million (est.)
Israel's Shavit launch vehicle is used primarily for communications, imaging, and research satellites — always over the Mediterranean to avoid flying above hostile neighbors. The first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, died aboard the NASA shuttle Columbia.
Program Founded: 1972
Budget: $1 billion
India's space agency is racing to be the sixth program to reach the moon (after Russia, the US, Europe, Japan, and China) with Chandrayaan-1 — an $83 million lunar orbiter carrying NASA and ESA instruments. India aims to send up its own manned lunar mission by 2020.
Program Founded: 2003
Budget: $100 million
In October 2005, Iran launched its first satellite, Sina-1, aboard a Russian rocket. Earlier this year, the country fired its own rocket, Kavoshgar-1, designed to scout future orbital paths. By 2010, Tehran expects to deploy four additional satellites.
Program Founded: 1994
Budget: $125 million
In 2003, an explosion on the launch pad took 21 lives. But Brazil rebounded the next year, when a VSB-30 rocket reached an altitude of 160 miles. In 2006, Marcos Pontes became the first Brazilian in space, floating aboard the International Space Station for eight days.
Program Founded: 2003
Budget: $2.5 billion
Japan has yet to build a spacecraft fit for humans. But it did send the first journalist into space: 18 years ago, Toyohiro Akiyama spent a week on the Russian space station Mir. The Japanese are eyeing a lunar landing in 2020 and hoping to build a base on the moon by 2030.
Program Founded: 1993
Budget: $2 billion (est.)
From the Gobi Desert, China sent its first human into orbit in 2003 — becoming the fourth agency to do so. Today, manned missions are taking off on a regular basis. Officials are planning China's first space walk this fall and expect to launch a moon rover by 2012.
European Space Agency
Program Founded: 1975
Budget: $5 billion
On the ESA's plate: launching the James Webb Space Telescope (with NASA and Canada) in 2013. The following year, its Rosetta spacecraft will meet up with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the first long-term analysis of a comet.
Program Founded: 1920s
Budget: $1.5 billion
Russia helps fund its space program by licensing its rocket tech and assisting other countries' initiatives. (South Korea paid $25 million to send up its first citizen.) A joint effort with China aims to launch a soil-collecting satellite to the Martian moon Phobos in 2009.
* Wired apologizes to those countries funding space exploration that we did not mention, such as Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, and, likely, North Korea and Iraq.