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?",
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
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
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
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