Space exploration is the discovery and exploration of outer space by means of space technology. Physical exploration of space is conducted both by human spaceflights and by robotic spacecraft. While the observation of objects in space, known as astronomy, predates reliable recorded history, it was the development of large and relatively efficient rockets during the early 20th century that allowed physical space exploration to become a reality.
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Common rationales for exploring space include advancing scientific research, uniting different nations, ensuring the future survival of humanity and developing military and strategic advantages against other countries. Space exploration has often been used as a proxy competition for geopolitical rivalries such as the Cold War. The early era of space exploration was driven by a “Space Race” between the Soviet Union and the United States, the launch of the first man-made object to orbit the Earth, the USSR’s Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957, and the first Moon landing by the American Apollo 11 craft on 20 July 1969 are often taken as the boundaries for this initial period.
The Soviet space program achieved many of the first milestones, including the first living being in orbit in 1957, the first human spaceflight (Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1) in 1961, the first spacewalk (by Aleksei Leonov) on 18 March 1965, the first automatic landing on another celestial body in 1966, and the launch of the first space station (Salyut 1) in 1971. After the first 20 years of exploration, focus shifted from one-off flights to renewable hardware, such as the Space Shuttle program, and from competition to cooperation as with the International Space Station (ISS). With the substantial completion of the ISS following STS-133 in March 2011, plans for space exploration by the USA remain in flux. Constellation, a Bush Administration program for a return to the Moon by 2020 was judged inadequately funded and unrealistic by an expert review panel reporting in 2009.
The Obama Administration proposed a revision of Constellation in 2010 to focus on the development of the capability for crewed missions beyond low earth orbit (LEO), envisioning extending the operation of the ISS beyond 2020, transferring the development of launch vehicles for human crews from NASA to the private sector, and developing technology to enable missions to beyond LEO, such as Earth/Moon L1, the Moon, Earth/Sun L2, near-earth asteroids, and Phobos or Mars orbit. As of March 2011, the US Senate and House of Representatives are still working towards a compromise NASA funding bill, which will probably terminate Constellation and fund development of a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV). In the 2000s, the People’s Republic of China initiated a successful manned spaceflight program, while the European Union, Japan, and India have also planned future manned space missions.
China, Russia, Japan, and India have advocated manned missions to the Moon during the 21st century, while the European Union has advocated manned missions to both the Moon and Mars during the 21st century. From the 1990s onwards, private interests began promoting space tourism and then private space exploration of the Moon (see Google Lunar X Prize).
Benefits of this to Mankind
There are critics who disagree with the expenditure on space exploration, which they claim can better be used to solve earthly problems. However, they seem to forget that this is one of the fields which tests a man’s intellect. But, how does a common man draw benefits of space exploration? The advances made in field of space exploration can be well used in other fields such as medicine, agriculture, etc. The following is the list of benefits of space exploration to mankind: Global Positioning System: The mankind depends on the sea trade for transportation of food grains, fossil fuels, metal ores, etc. Global navigation system, GPS helps in timely delivery of these essential goods by providing the ships with essential navigation information.
The GNS services are made available using networks of satellites which also enables satellite Internet and satellite phones. Weather Forecast and Agriculture: Gone are the days, when we used to take an umbrella with us while going out if there were black clouds in the sky. Now we can rely on the weather reports updated on an hourly basis. The accurate weather forecast is possible only because of the satellites in the space. The satellites also help us in predicting the crop yields, pest infestation and the area under cultivation. Natural Calamities: It is easy to predict natural calamities such as floods, storms, tornadoes, hurricanes and to locate wildfires and their extent with the help of satellites. Minerals and Mining: Minerals buried deep under the Earth’s surface can be located using satellites. Precious fossil fuels can be found with the help of satellites. Electronics: The field of electronics and computers have also benefited from the space exploration.
The astronauts have manufactured miniature electronic parts that could only be produced in the space during their experiments in the space stations and space shuttles. Asteroids: It is believed that an asteroid strike eliminated the dinosaurs on the Earth. One of the benefits of space exploration is that we know about the thousands of asteroids and we can also be vigilant about their “drifts”. May be we could prevent ‘dinosaurian death of mankind’, if and when an asteroid is positioned to repeat history. If it happens, it would be because of the knowledge which is the direct benefit of space exploration. Energy Source: The scientists and researchers all over the world are attempting to harness the power of nuclear fusion. The process which enables the Sun to produce energy in abundance. It is believed that quantity of electricity generated using 1kg of hydrogen would be equivalent to that of 11,000 metric tons of coal.
Medicine: Another field to glean the benefits of the satellite exploration is that of medicine. Metal alloys that are manufactured to be used in spacecraft and space shuttles are also used in the health care industry. Nitinol, an alloy is used to make braces. The miniature electronic components which were developed for the space program can be used in electronic pain-control device that some patients need to use. The implantable insulin pump is based on the mechanical robot arm developed for the Mars Voyager probe. The space exploration benefits also encompasses the field of communication which needs no explanation. The applications of knowledge and the technologies, that are the outcome of the man’s efforts to explore space, are making his life easier indeed!