Mankind has always dreamed of leaving Earth to see space -- its wonders, and numerous mysteries, its potentially unlimited resources. Let's now take a look back at the development of space flight and its exploration.|
The rocket is the first step in space flight. Gunpowder was one of China's great contributions to human civilization. The earliest gunpowder rockets appeared during the Song Dynasty in the 13th century. Around the time of the Renaissance, Chinese rocketry found its way into Europe.
The German Army was the first to realize the military potential of rocketry, in World War II. In 1942, the Germans launched the A-4 rocket. It was the first real attempt to escape earth's gravitational field.
During the Cold War, the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union further promoted the development of space technology. On October the 4th, 1957, the first artificial satellite, the Sputnik 1, was sent into Orbit on the R-7 Rocket, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The United States were the second to put a satellite into orbit. France and Japan then followed suit. China puts its first satellite into orbit on April the 24th, 1970, on board the Dongfanghong 1 rocket.
The first man in space was the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961, aboard the Vostok 1. He made one orbit of the earth, before safely returning to a hero's welcome and a place in history.
Gagarin's flight had a tremendous political impact. The United States was determined to catch up with the Soviets, and the race was on to reach the moon. In 1961, the US launched its Apollo Program, the largest and most expensive manned space flight project yet. At its height, over 300 thousand personnel worked on it. Altogether, 25.5 billion US dollars were spent. But on July 16, 1969, it all paid off when a Saturn 5 rocket lifted off from Cape Kennedy, carrying the Apollo 11 spacecraft. The destination was the moon, where Neil Armstrong made history, when he stepped down onto its surface.
But space flight is about more than rockets and spacecraft. If we want to stay in space, then a way of living there is needed. On April the 19th, 1971, the Soviets sent their Proton rocket into space, carrying Salyut 1, the world's first space station. Salyut 1 orbited the Earth for 175 days before it burned up on re-entry on October the 11th. Since then, the United States and Soviet Union put into orbit 8 space stations.
Currently 16 countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, Brazil and 11 member countries of the European Space Agency, have joined forces to build the multi-module International Space Station, scheduled to be finished by 2008.
Although the International Space Station is the most ambitious space project yet attempted, it's still only the first step in sending man deeper into the solar system.
Rockets, manned spaceflight, landings on the moon, and space stations. But it's only a beginning. How long will it be before we see factories in space, immigration to the moon, or even a tourist shuttle to Mars?