The History of Space Exploration
Space exploration refers to outer space travel for the purpose of scientific research and observation. Until 1958 space exploration was considered purely a military venture, but in 1958, the United States Government launched the National Aeronautics and Space Act to regulate all activities that pertain to space exploration.
The Beginning of Space Exploration
For centuries, scientists had been looking at the prospects of traveling into outer space. In the 1940s, experimental rocket launches into outer space were carried out time after time, but none could reach the desired altitudes. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union sent the first unmanned mission into space. They launched a satellite called Sputnik 1, which successfully remained in outer space for 3 months. On November 3, 1957, they subsequently launched another satellite known as the Sputnik 2, which carried a dog into orbit for 7 days. The Americans were envious of the success of the Russians, and the fact that there was a cold war between the two countries did not make things better. This led to the beginning of the “space race”.
The Space Race
The space race brought about a massive revolution in space exploration as each country tried to out-pace the other in the advancement of outer space technology and achievements. After the Soviet Union launched two successive satellites, the Americans were not to be outdone, and they launched their first successful satellite Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958. They followed this with the launch of Explorer 2 on March 5, 1958, which failed to reach orbit.
Man in Space
Space scientists were always looking for the possibility of sending human beings into outer space. After experimenting with animals, it was time for the first manned space mission. The first successful manned space mission was launched by Russia on April 12, 1961, carrying a young man known as Yuri Gagarin. The spacecraft was Vostok 1, and it orbited around the earth in 1 hour 48 minutes. One month later, the United States launched their first manned space mission with astronaut Alan Shepard, who managed to complete a suborbital flight. John Glen achieved his first orbital flight on February 20, 1962.
With advancement in technology, it became easier and safer to launch manned missions. This led to an attempt to land on the moon, and it was achieved when Neil Armstrong and his crew in the Apollo 11 made a safe landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong proceeded to make the first moon walk. This great achievement catapulted America’s reputation in the space race.
Not all space missions have been successful though. There were several tragedies involving space missions, and some of them had fatal results. On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 1, which was also known as Apollo/Saturn 204, caught fire during its simulation launch, killing all crew members. Russia’s attempt to land on the moon ended in tragedy too when the Soyuz 1 encountered technical problems soon after its launch. The sole crew member perished as he could not repair the fault.
The Future of Space Exploration
Modern space exploration is reaching ares once only dreamed of. Mars is a main focal point of modern space exploration and a manned mars exploration is a long term goal of the United States. In addition, the concept of space tourism has opened up an opportunity for wealthy individuals to travel into outer space for leisure. The idea has yet to take off but construction of “spaceports” has begun in areas around the world. Please explore the links below for more information.
- NASA Space Act: The space act established by NASA in 1958.
- NASA Space Tourism: Discussion on space commercialization and tourism.
- Space Race: Information about the space race.
- Apollo 11 Mission: An overview of the Apollo 11 mission.