Step back from the coldwar/conflict analysis in this WaPo frontpager
on China and India's burgeoning space programs, and take a minute to appreciate culturally what's going on in these countries.
In countries in ascent on the world stage, there is always this cultural element of achievement, of firsts and mosts and amazements and pride that manifests itself in all sorts of weird ways.
There are the obvious major cultural pride achievements like a space program or that which the Beijing Olympics have become, but there are also elements of this that go down to the very average people doing very strange "Guiness book" kind of things. We're beginning to see this coming out of both India and China.
It's part of these countries' developing self images, a manifestation that infuses itself into the cultural core, that "our people" are capable of great things. It's a cultural self belief of a country that draws average people to achievement, even if it's some ridiculous toothpick reconstruction of the Empire State building or carhenge
There's also an element of cultural reflection in the achievements a culture chooses to embrace. For instance, Houdini was interesting because he captured the possibility of a nobody immigrant beating incredible odds in a time when blue collar workers were fighting for the 40-hour workweek and other workplace rights. Houdini was the possibility of the American dream, the escape from the impossible.
If you think back, the Soviets had their "average guy" heroes, too (although they tended to focus on athletics and competition) and the British did too (travelogues as a manifestation of the first global empire.)
So, as you read about the China or India big achievements like a space program or whatever, remember that there is also this everyman achiever cultural element out there, a hot dog eater, a poll sitter, a pogostick champion who speaks about their countries' self image just as much.