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Space Exploration: The Universe Beyond Our Eyes

The mysteries of our universe lie beyond our naked eye. Space exploration by humans aids in answering important queries concerning the origins of our solar system and our place in the cosmos.

By addressing the difficulties associated with human space travel, we advance technology, develop new markets, and promote friendly relations with other countries.

The fascination with the heavens has persisted and been shared by all people. Humans are compelled to explore the uncharted, find new planets, test the limits of our knowledge and technology, and then push some more.

Accepting the challenge of traveling further into space will invite both today’s world citizens and the generations of tomorrow to join this thrilling trip. Curiosity and exploration are essential to the human spirit.

By building on what we learn there, we can get astronauts ready for the difficulties of a long-haul flight and the ongoing advancement of human exploration beyond our previous frontiers.

Near-Earth asteroids may be visited by explorers, and there we may find the answers to the questions that people have always had.

Robotic exploration keeps giving deep insights into the universe by traveling to far locations, conducting reconnaissance, and gathering data. We can use technology and our senses to improve our ability to observe, adapt, and unearth new knowledge by combining human and robotic exploration approaches.

As per Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff (1979), ” sitting on top of a giant Roman candle, such as a Redstone, Atlas, Titan or Saturn rocket, and waiting for someone to light the fuse” is something that professional astronauts and laypeople alike submit to at their own grave risk.

space exploration
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1. History Of Space Exploration 

Since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth, on October 4, 1957, humans have been exploring space. This took place during the Cold War, a time when the Soviet Union and the United States were at odds politically.

The development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which can transport nuclear bombs between continents, has been a source of rivalry between the two superpowers for a number of years.

The space race was set to start when Sergey Korolev, a rocket designer of the U.S.S.R., created the R7, the first intercontinental ballistic missile. Sputnik’s launch brought this rivalry to a climax.

The Sputnik satellite, launched on an R7 rocket, was equipped with a radio transmitter that allowed it to emit beeps. Sputnik orbited the Earth once every 96 minutes after entering space. People all over the world were able to hear the radio beeps as the satellite passed by, proving that it was actually in orbit.

The United States became concerned when it became clear that the USSR had technological capabilities that may put Americans in peril. Later, on November 3, 1957, the Soviets made an even more remarkable space endeavor. This was SputnikII, a satellite that contained a dog named Laika as a living organism.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was established as a new government organization to oversee US space exploration in 1958. (NASA). The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), as well as a number of other research and military institutions, including the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (the Redstone Arsenal) in Huntsville, were all absorbed by NASA when it started operating in October 1958.

Nazi Germany recognized the potential for utilizing long-range rockets as weapons in the 1930s and 1940s. Late in World War II, V-2 missiles with a 200-mile range targeted London, arching 60 miles high over the English Channel at a speed of more than 3,500 mph. Both the United States and the Soviet Union developed their own missile programs following World War II.

The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel into space on April 12, 1961, after traveling for 108 minutes in a single circle of the planet.

A little over three weeks later, NASA launched astronaut Alan Shepard on a suborbital trajectory—a trip that enters space but does not completely circle the Earth—rather than an orbital one. Shepard was in sub orbit for just over 15 minutes.

On May 25, three weeks later, President John F. Kennedy issued a bold challenge to the country, saying: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to attain the goal, before the decade is through, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

The Apollo Soyuz Test Project, the first international crewed space mission (consisting of Americans and Russians), and Skylab, America’s first space station, were two of the greatest achievements in human spaceflight during the 1970s.

People could use their home dish antennas to receive satellite signals as television programming was carried over satellites in the 1980s. Satellites identified an ozone hole over Antarctica, located forest fires, and provided images of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear power plant accident. We now have a new perspective on the galactic core thanks to astronomical satellite discoveries of new stars.

A period of reliance on the reusable shuttle for the majority of commercial and government space flights began in April 1981 with the launch of the space shuttle Columbia. Up to Jan. 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff, twenty-four successful shuttle launches satisfied many scientific and military needs. Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire teacher who would have been the first civilian in space, and the other six members of the crew were killed.

Space exploration
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2. International Space Station

The largest single structure humans have ever placed in space is the International Space Station (ISS), which is currently being built by a number of nations. The station underwent major construction between 1998 and 2011, although it is constantly changing to accommodate new missions and research. Since November 2, 2000, it has been continually occupied.

According to the European Space Agency, the ISS is a “cooperative program” between Europe, the United States, Russia, Canada, and Japan and is not owned by any one particular country (ESA). Almost one-third of NASA’s budget for human spaceflight goes towards operating the International Space Station, which costs the space agency nearly $3 billion annually, according to the office of the inspector general.

There have been 258 visitors to the International Space Station as of May 2022, from 20 different nations(opens in new tab). The United States (158 participants) and Russia are the top two participating nations (54 people). According to how much money or resources (such as modules or robotics) they contribute, space agencies receive different amounts of astronaut time and research time on the space station.

Contributions to the ISS come from 15 countries. The principal finance contributors to the space station are NASA (the United States), Roscosmos (Russia), and the European Space Agency; the other partners are the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Private astronauts are beginning to operate on the orbiting complex through a private corporation named Axiom Space, and occasionally astronauts from other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, do fly to the ISS.

According to current plans, the space station will be used until at least 2024, with the partners talking about a potential extension. Although Russia claims it will leave after 2024 to concentrate on building its own space station around 2028, NASA has accepted an extension until 2030. It has not yet been decided how the station will be run after Russia leaves. Plans for the International Space Station beyond 2030 are also unclear. It might be recycled for upcoming commercial space stations in orbit or deorbited.

Space exploration
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3. Achieved Milestones

  1. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite.
  2. On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union sent the first human into space, Yuri Gagarin, for a one-orbit tour around Earth.
  3. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin (“Buzz”) Aldrin of Apollo 11 made the first lunar landing. Between July 1969 and December 1972, 12 Americans on six different Apollo flights stepped foot on the Moon.
  4. Since 1957, Earth-orbiting satellites and robotic spacecraft traveling away from Earth have collected essential data on the Sun, Earth, other solar system bodies, and the universe beyond.
  5. Robotic spacecraft have landed on the Moon, Venus, Mars, Titan, a comet, and four asteroids, visited all of the major planets, and sailed through the inner solar system past Kuiper band objects and comet nuclei, including Halley’s Comet. Scientists have used data from space to learn more about the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars, planets, and other cosmic phenomena.
  6. Meteorologic satellites provide data on short- and long-term weather trends as well as the underlying causes.
  7. Telecommunications satellites provide virtually instantaneous global transmission of speech, pictures, and data.
Space exploration
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4. Indian Space Program

  • Astro Sat is India’s first dedicated astronomy mission, with the goal of researching celestial sources in X-ray, optical, and UV spectral bands at the same time. The payloads encompass the Ultraviolet (Near and For) energy bands, as well as a modest optical and X-ray regime (0.3 keV to 100 keV). One of the mission’s distinguishing qualities is the ability to observe several celestial objects at multiple wavelengths with a single satellite.
  • PSLV-C30 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, launched Astro Sat with a lift-off mass of 1515 kg into a 650 km orbit inclined at an angle of 6 degrees to the equator on September 28, 2015. The Astro Sat mission is expected to have a minimum usable life of 5 years.
  • The Mars Orbiter Mission [MOM] is ISRO’s first interplanetary mission to Mars, with an orbiter vessel designed to orbit Mars in an elliptical orbit 372 kilometers by 80,000 kilometers in size.
    Given the crucial mission operations and stringent requirements on propulsion, communications, and other spacecraft bus systems, the Mars Orbiter mission might be described as a hard technological and science mission.
    The mission’s primary driving technological goal is to design and build a spacecraft capable of performing EarthBound Manoeuvre (EBM), Martian Transfer Trajectory (MTT), and Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) phases, as well as deep space mission planning and communication management at a distance of nearly 400 million kilometers. The task also requires autonomous fault detection and recovery.
  • On October 22, 2008, India’s first mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, was successfully launched from SDSC SHAR in Sriharikota. The spacecraft was orbiting the Moon at a height of 100 kilometers above the lunar surface to map the Moon’s chemical, mineralogical, and photo-geologic composition. The spacecraft carried 11 pieces of scientific equipment built in India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, and Bulgaria.
  • The Chandrayaan-2 mission to the Moon will be an improved version of the earlier Chandrayaan-1 mission. Chandrayaan-2 is designed as a two-module system, with an Orbiter Craft module (OC) and a Lander Craft module (LC) carrying an ISRO-developed Rover.
  • 104 satellites: ISRO made history by launching 104 satellites all at once.
  •  ISRO is preparing for its missions of Aditya (Solar Mission) and Gaganyaan (Manned Space Mission).

5. Firsts In Space

5.1. First Telescope :

The first telescope is supposed to have been invented in 1608 in the Netherlands by an eyeglass maker named Hans Lippershey, but it was Galileo Galilei who used it for the first time in astronomy in 1609.  Because of its improved qualities over the previous Galilean telescope, Isaac Newton developed his own reflecting telescope in 1668, the first completely functional telescope of its sort and a cornerstone for future advances.

The mountains of the Moon, the phases of Venus, the primary satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, the rings of Saturn, many comets, asteroids, the new planets Uranus and Neptune, and many more satellites were discovered then and in the following centuries. The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory 2 was the first space telescope to be launched in 1968, but the Hubble Space Telescope’s launch in 1990 was a watershed moment.

There were 5,284 verified exoplanets identified as of December 1, 2022. It is estimated that the Milky Way has 100-400 billion stars and more than 100 billion planets. The observable cosmos contains at least 2 trillion galaxies.  The most distant known object from Earth is HD1, which is claimed to be 33.4 billion light-years away.

5.2. First Outer Space Flights:

On 20 June 1944, at the Peenemünde Army Research Center in Peenemünde, Germany, MW 18014 was a German V-2 rocket test launch.

It was the first man-made object to reach space, reaching an apogee of 176 kilometers, well over the Kármán line.  Although the rocket reached space, it did not achieve orbital velocity and hence crashed down to Earth, becoming the first sub-orbital mission.

5.3. First Astronomical Objects:

Luna 2 was the first artificial object to reach another celestial planet, landing on the Moon in 1959.

Pioneer 6, launched on December 16, 1965, was the first spacecraft to orbit the Sun.

The Venera 9 was the first spacecraft to return photos from the surface of another planet, Venus, in 1975.

The Mars 3 mission made the first soft landing on Mars in 1971, collecting data for over 20 seconds.

Longer length surface missions were performed, including Viking 1’s six-year surface operation on Mars and Venera 13’s two-hour broadcast from the surface of Venus in 1982.

5.4. First Space Stations:

The Soviet Union launched the first space station, Salyut 1, into low Earth orbit on April 19, 1961.

5.5. First Woman In Space:

Valentina Tereshkova was the first female astronaut. She, like Yuri Gagarin, was a Russian astronaut. In 1963, Valentina piloted the Vostok 6 missile. During her three days in space, she performed 48 Earth orbits.

5.6. First Space Walk:

Alexei Leonov, another Russian, was the first person to exit a spacecraft while it was in orbit. He spent 12 minutes outside Voskhod 2, 5 meters from the spaceship, in 1965. This is referred to as a ‘spacewalk’. Spacewalks are used by astronauts to repair the outside of their vehicles.

5.7. First Man On The Moon:

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission crew included Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. 

5.8. The First Monkey In Space: 

Albert, a male rhesus monkey, was the first to be flown into space in 1948. Unfortunately, he perished before reaching space. He was followed a year later by Albert II, a monkey who made it to space but did not return alive.

5.9. First Full Photo Of The Earth: 

On August 23, 1966, a NASA shuttle took the first photograph of Earth from the moon’s orbit. 

5.10. First Deaths In Space: 

On June 30, 1971, three Soviet astronauts—Georgi Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev—became the first to perish in space. A faulty breathing valve triggered a loss in pressure within their spaceship, causing them to perish within seconds. 

Space exploration
image by Pixabay / Pexels / Copyright 2016

6. Future Of Space Exploration

Thus yet, humanity has only traveled as far as the Moon. The Apollo 17 crew was the final humans to set foot on the Moon in 1972. The Artemis mission is being developed by NASA and the European Space Agency. The Artemis rocket launched for the maiden time on November 16, 2022, with the payload orbiting the Moon and subsequently returning to Earth.

NASA aspires to send the first people to Mars by 2030. SpaceX also intends to launch crewed expeditions to Mars. Their goal is to establish a human colony on Mars.

Reusable parts dramatically reduce launch costs, decreasing the barrier to entry into space. NASA estimates that commercial launch prices to the International Space Station have decreased by a factor of four during the previous 20 years.

Breakthrough Starshot is a research and engineering effort led by Breakthrough Initiatives to create a proof-of-concept fleet of StarChip light sail spacecraft capable of traveling to the Alpha Centauri star system 4.37 light-years away. Yuri Milner, Stephen Hawking, and Mark Zuckerberg created it in 2016.

Hence, from a cosmic standpoint, the current age, dominated by mankind and its artifacts, is a small sliver between the four billion years of pre-human Darwinian evolution and the billions of years of future evolution via technological ‘intelligent design’ – both here on Earth and far beyond.

For more interesting research and facts about space, click here.




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