Across the horizon: the rising sun and endless possibilities

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Space Exploration
The urge to explore the unknown is part of human nature and has led to many of the most profound changes in our standard of living. It enriches our spirits and reminds us of the great potential of achievement within us all. The drive to develop the next frontier has also been a fundamental part of the heritage of the people of the world. The physical challenges and costs of space exploration also serve as a natural catalyst for peaceful, international cooperation, improving the quality of life for people in many different nations. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on the exploration of space. Many citizens doubt the necessity to research our solar system and the rest of our universe. Spaceflight may strike us as an ultramodern idea, but evidence of the dream of space exploration exists as far back as Babylonian texts from 4000 BC. In the seventh and sixth centuries BC, Greek philosophers, Thales and Pythagoras, declared that the Earth was round. In the third century BC, an astronomer named Aristarchus of Samos realized that the earth revolved around the sun. Fourteen hundred years later, Nicolaus Copernicus explained that the sun was the center of our solar system, and that all of the planets revolved around it. Much later, in the 1600's, Sir Isaac Newton formulated the laws of universal gravitation and motion. Newton stated in his third Law of Motion that "every action is accompanied by an equal and opposite reaction." A rocket operates under this principle. The continuous ejection of a stream of hot gases in one direction causes a steady motion of the rocket in the opposite direction. This established the basic principles needed for space flight. Even with these basic principles demonstrated, the first man had not been sent into space until 1961. Yuri A. Gagarian, a Russian cosmonaut, made one full orbit around the Earth on April 12. On June 16, 1963, another Russian cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman into space. She orbited the earth 48 times. The United States had become furious. The Russians had beaten them into space. The race to the moon had begun. It was a matter of national pride and America wanted to win - badly. There were rumors that if Russia were to beat the United States, they would mark the moon with a splotch of red dye. "Would we be able to add a splotch of blue?", Americans wondered. Apollo II was launched on July 16, 1969. Aboard were astronauts, Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., Neil A. Armstrong, and Lieutenant Colonel Michael Collins. Their mission was to be the first men on the moon. A few hours after the Lunar Module had landed on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong descended the ladder and said the famous words, "That's one small step for man and one giant step for mankind." The United States had won the race to the moon. Today, instead of competing against one another, Russia and America are working together, planning the construction of an international space station. On June 29, 1995, the American space shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir. This was the first joining of Russian and American space craft since 1975. From our journeys into space, we have learned much about our home planet. The first American satellite, Explorer 1, was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on January 31, 1958. It discovered an intense radiation zone, now called the Van Allen radiation belts, surrounding Earth. Since then, other research satellites have revealed that our planet's magnetic field is distorted into a tear-drop shape by the solar wind - the stream of charged particles continuously ejected from the Sun. We've learned that the magnetic field does not fade off into space but has definite boundaries. And we now know that our wispy upper atmosphere, once believed to be calm and uneventful, seethes with activity - swelling by day, and contracting by night. Affected by changes in solar activity, the upper atmosphere contributes to weather and climate on Earth. Satellites at about 22,238 miles out in space play a major role in daily local weather forecasting. These electronic eyes warn us of dangerous storms. Continuous global monitoring provides a vast amount of useful data and contributes to a better understanding of Earth's complex weather systems. Satellites can survey Earth's oceans, land use and resources, and monitor the planet's health. These eyes in space have provided tremendous conveniences and shown us that we may be altering our planet in dangerous ways. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which was founded in 1915, is the root of the US space program currently known as NASA. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has been a world leader in aviation-related research and development. Currently, NASA's top priority is joint research with industry leading to the development of an economical and environmentally safe supersonic passenger jet known as the High Speed Civil Transport. This passenger jet would be able to fly from Los Angeles to Japan in about four hours. This plane represents a potential market of five hundred to a thousand planes worth an estimated $200 billion and approximately 140,000 jobs. Another priority of NASA is a continued partnership with the US Department of Defense in pursuing the most challenging aspects of hypersonic flight technology. Funding for NASA estimates to be about one penny out of every dollar from the US federal budget. This has dropped from a peak of four pennies per dollar in the late 1960's. This funding level has remained relatively low for the past three years. It's predicted to grow less swiftly than the rate of inflation in the near future. Many argue that space exploration is unnecessary. They argue that space station and shuttle overspending are to be expected from NASA which regularly underestimates the cost of flights. In 1991, each flight cost 1.5 billion dollars which overruns its estimate of 33 million dollars by 5000 percent. Our civilization is being threatened with overpopulation. Soon our natural resources will be diminished to a degree where they cannot possibly support the entire human race. The hole in the ozone layer grows larger everyday. Expanding the human population to the point where we live throughout the solar system would help end the risk of extinction., possibly even due to a single event, be it nuclear war, or the impact of a comet. Space exploration has been a concept pondered upon since the beginning of time. Over the centuries mankind has kept advancing in the courses of technology, theories, etc., bringing us the possibilities of actually exploring the wondrous universe. Who knows, at the rate we've kept going at, mankind may soon be living on other planets in our solar system.


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