Space exploration has been a dream of humankind since the day that astronomer Giordano Bruno suggested the existence of other planets beyond the Earth's solar system in the 16th century. Humanity's curiosity about outer space eventually inspired great authors like Jules Verne and H G Wells to write science fiction stories about space exploration and human interactions with aliens from distant worlds. While no aliens have yet been discovered, humanity has begun to explore the solar system and has even sent a dozen men to walk on the moon. In addition, five centuries after Bruno first published his theories about the existence of other worlds, human space exploration and related technologies ultimately proved him to be right. Human space exploration, despite all of its achievements, is still in its infancy.
In the 20th century, humanity's ambitions inspired scientists to start reaching for the stars, including American scientist Robert Goddard, who was the inventor of the first rocket to use liquid fuel. Decades later, in Germany during World War II, Wernher von Braun would build the Vengeance-2, or V-2 rocket. On October 3 of 1942, this rocket ultimately became the first rocket to ever reach outer space. This marked humanity's first step in space exploration, although its intent was for making war and not scientific achievement. After Germany's defeat in 1945, von Braun's V-2 rocket design and Goddard's many patented rocket design technologies led to an explosion in space exploration technology.
The first photos were taken from space in 1946 by a V-2 rocket launched by the United States. The first living creature ever put in space was a fruit fly in 1947, again by an American-owned V-2 rocket. The Soviet Union, however, was also researching space flight, and in 1957 they shocked the world with the launch of Sputnik-1, the first human-made satellite to actually orbit the Earth. This event officially launched the great Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Space Race drove many great innovations in space exploration and space technology. The Soviet Union put the first non-insect animal in space, a dog which lived for 3 days. In 1958 the United States successfully launched its first satellite into space, Explorer-1, which made important discoveries about the Earth, such as the existence of the Van Allen radiation belts. It also led to the creation of NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in 1958. The first man in space was a Soviet astronaut named Yuriy Gagarin. NASA would respond in 1962 with the first interplanetary probe, Mariner-2, an unmanned probe which flew by Venus. The most momentous project was launched by President John F Kennedy in 1961, however, which was to put a man on the moon within a decade, and safely return him home. Called the Apollo program, the project resulted in the first successful landing of a man on the moon. This historical achievement occurred on July 21, 1969, when Neil Armstrong took a step out of the Apollo 11 lunar landing module and became the first human to ever walk on the moon. The Kennedy Space Center, based in Florida, was responsible for launching the manned Apollo missions, and all manned spaceflight from the United States since 1968. Originally called the Launch Operations Center, it was named in Kennedy's honor after his assassination in 1963.
Humanity has made many achievements in space exploration since the Apollo 11 mission. A total of 12 people, all Americans, have set foot on the moon. The space shuttle program ran for 30 years, from 1981 to 2011, and was responsible for putting the Hubble telescope into orbit, as well as servicing the International Space Station (ISS) and launching and repairing many satellites. The Russian Soyuz program, originally a Soviet Union project, still runs, and is now responsible for taking people to and from the ISS. China has also debuted its Shenzhou spacecraft program, inspired by the Russian Soyuz. Other notable projects that have come and gone are the Russian Mir and American Skylab space stations. Robotics has also played an important role in the space program, such as in the Mars Exploration Rover program, which launched in 2003. The Rover has since captured many breathtaking photographs of the surface of Mars. Thanks to the use of satellite imaging technology, humanity now better understands the world's ecosystem, including the nature of global warming. Global positioning satellites have saved lives by helping rescue teams reach people in distress in remote locations. Many inventions, such as power drills and memory foam mattresses, came from innovations involving space exploration. In 1988, the beliefs of Giordano Bruno, who was convicted of and executed for heresy, were validated when the first planet was discovered beyond the solar system. In the future, it may be possible for humanity to fulfill the dream of reaching these worlds, although the technology to do so does not yet exist.
Continued space exploration will always be an important mission for humanity. British physicist Stephen Hawking once said that humanity must colonize other worlds in order to survive. The achievements of the past can and will be overshadowed by future accomplishments if human civilization hopes to continue to thrive and grow. To do this we will need more scientists and better technology to help us in our goal to reach for the stars.
For more information about space travel, the following resources can be consulted.
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