India and Japan are preparing to fly each other to the moon as two of Asia’s leading economic powers team up to counter China’s growing prowess in space exploration. National space agencies in both countries are planning a joint mission to explore the moon’s polar regions for water that they hope could one day sustain human habitation.

The collaboration highlights the rising importance of Asia in space and the geopolitical reaction in the region to China’s rise. “Both India and Japan have demonstration landings on the moon coming up,” said Hiroki Furihata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). “The next step for both of us is true exploration. If we combine the strengths of both sides it can be a win-win.”

Japan and India have already mounted successful lunar missions, with India’s Chandrayaan-1 impactor hitting the moon in 2008 and Japan’s Selene orbiting from 2007-09. This year, Chandrayaan-2 will deploy a rover, while Japan’s SLIM lander is scheduled to reach the moon in 2019.

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