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Space exploration is the physical exploration of outer-Earth objects and generally anything that involves the technologies, science, and politics regarding space endeavors. The idea of sending an object to space was conceived in the minds of many science fiction authors hundreds of years before it was actually feasible. Some of these works even included various descriptions of exactly how that would be done. During the 20th century, with the development of adequate propulsion technologies, stronger and lighter materials and other technological and scientific breakthroughs, the idea of outer-earth missions was no longer a dream, but a viable practice.
The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. displays a moon rock sample which the public can see and touch, a Gemini space capsule and Soviet rockets. The NASM annex at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia displays an unparalleled array of aerospace technology in one place: Space Shuttle Enterprise, a Concorde and scores of aircraft. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum in Huntsville, Alabama next to Redstone Arsenal displays many articles of space hardware, including a full-size replica of the Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket, the original Apollo and Mercury space capsule trainers, and the original Apollo 16 space capsule.
Orbiting and reaching space
From a spaceflight perspective, the definition of space usually used is that space begins 100 km (62 miles) above Earth's surface. The United States sometimes uses a 50 mile definition.
Achieving orbit is a prerequisite for going anywhere else, such as to the Moon or Mars. The first successful orbital launch was of the Soviet unmanned Sputnik 1 mission on October 4, 1957. This spectacular success led to an escalation of the American space program, and to an undeclared Space Race between the two superpowers. Soviet dog Laika became the first animal in orbit on November 3, 1957. The first orbital flight made by a human being was Vostok 1, carrying Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961.
One can distinguish the sub-orbital spaceflight and the orbital spaceflight. As for sub-orbital flights, on October 3, 1942 an A4 rocket, a prototype for the German V2 rocket bomb, became the first successful launch of an object into space. The first organisms launched into space were fruit flies and corn seeds aboard a U.S.-launched V2 rocket in July, 1946. Another milestone was achieved on May 17, 2004 when Civilian Space exploration Team launched the GoFast Rocket on a suborbital flight, the first amateur space flight. On June 21, 2004 SpaceShipOne became the first private human spacecraft.
Project Vanguard was transferred from the NRL to
NASA immediately before launch.
The Space Shuttle Columbia seconds after engine ignition, 1981 (NASA)
The first reusable spacecraft (space shuttle) was launched by the USA on the 20th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, April 12 1981. The first (and so far only) automatic reusable spacecraft was Buran, launched by the USSR on November 15 1988.
Nine Good Reasons for Space Exploration
Advocates of space exploration often get asked the question: "Why should we spend money on NASA where there are so many problems here on Earth?” Universe Today has been compiling a list of responses to this question by space-bloggers from across the web.
In response to Universe Today’s call for answers, they decided to compile a list of our top reasons that space exploration is a worthwhile endeavor. I also encourage everyone to read The Chase for Space Exploration, a collection of essays and articles put together by the Space Exploration.
Now, without further ado, our list:
1. Perspective – As our telescopes probe the depths of space and time and our spacecraft missions reveal the scale and diversity of worlds even within our own solar system, we are provided with a humbling sense of our place in the universe. Carl Sagan expressed the significance of this perspective in a beautiful passage in his book Pale Blue Dot. You can also listen to Sagan himself read the passage in this video clip. The world would be a better place if everyone watched that video.
2. Protecting and Understanding our World -
3. Inspiration – The Apollo missions inspired an entire generation of students to pursue math and science careers. As our society becomes more technology-dependent, the populace needs to become scientifically literate to keep up. Telling students that "You could be the first astronaut on Mars!” or "You could be the one driving the next Mars rovers!” is a pretty effective way of inspiring them to study science and math.
4. The Economy - NASA does not launch buckets of cash into space. The majority of the money spent on space exploration goes toward the salaries of thousands of skilled American workers who make NASA’s missions so successful.
5. Exploration – To be human is to be an explorer. It is part of who we are: since the first tribes left the African savanna and spread into Europe and Asia, we have had the need to explore the unknown. Now humans have visited or settled every corner of the globe. The instinct to explore is still active, but there are very few outlets. Some people seek out extreme or exotic places to satisfy this need, risking their lives to do so. Others look to the skies. It may be an old cliche, but Star Trek had it right: Space is the final frontier, and it calls to the explorer in all of us.
6. New Technology - Space exploration brings together a lot of smart people from many different fields and puts them to work on some very difficult problems. The result is not only fantastic scientific discoveries, but also many useful inventions. From healthier baby food to technology to better diagnose breast cancer, to farther flying golf balls, NASA technology is all around you.
7. Answering the Big Questions –How did life begin? How did the universe begin? How was our world created? These questions and others have been asked by every generation since the dawn of time. That we can even ask them is a testament to the power of the human brain. Now, because we are smart enough and bold enough to explore the universe, we are finding the answers. In the words of Carl Sagan, "We are star stuff contemplating the stars.”
8. International Collaboration – Large space exploration projects are almost always the result of international cooperation. The International Space Station is the most obvious example, but the space shuttle regularly has astronauts from other nations, and many robotic missions include instruments built by teams in other countries. As NASA gears up to return to the moon, precursor missions from Japan, India, China and Russia are already in orbit, are planned, or are under construction. Future human Mars missions will almost certainly involve multiple space agencies to spread the cost among several nations.
9. Long-term Survival – As it stands, all of humanity’s eggs are in one small basket called "Earth”. It is only a matter of time before something happens to our planet that is so devastating that it changes the course of life as we know it. Whether the disaster is natural, like a rogue comet, or self-inflicted, like nuclear war, it is possible that our home will no longer be habitable. What happens, then, to all of the accomplishments of the last thousand generations of humans? All of our art, our music, our literature, our science, even our very genes could be wiped out. Unless, of course, there are a few humans living elsewhere in the solar system. Space exploration and colonization of the Moon and Mars are an insurance policy for humanity and all of our achievements.
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