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There was a time when the earth was thought to be the center of the planet. Centuries of research and exploration have demystified that myth.
Space exploration first began as a competition between Russia and the US. Each is running to outdo each other and emerge top of the field. This led to achievements by both countries that we still marvel at today. For instance, the famous moon landing by Apollo 11 saw the first man on space on July 20th, 1969. Neil Armstrong, who was the mission commander and Buzz Aldrin landed the lunar module Eagle safely on the moon on 20th July 1969 at 20:18 UTC. There have been several achievements in space exploration since then, and there were some made even before the first man on the moon.
Heliocentrism in the 16th Century
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For a long time, the earth was thought to be the center of the universe. However, this theory was put to rest when a model of the world was made in which the sun, not the earth was at the center of the universe. The Heliocentrism theory was contradictory to geocentrism which placed the earth at the center of the universe. The first model was presented by Renaissance mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus and perfected by Joseph Kepler to include orbits in the 16th century. When Galileo Galilei used the telescope to observe the universe, he supported the observations. This was the first step into man’s curiosity about what was beyond the earth.
The First Satellite in Space 1957
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The first satellite launched into space was “Sputnik 1” which was launched into space into an elliptical low earth orbit on October 4th, 1957. “Sputnik 1” was launched by the Soviet Union. It orbited for three weeks after which its batteries died. It then went silent for two months after which it fell back into the atmosphere. It was a metal sphere and had four radio antennas which were used to broadcast radio pulses. Its signal was easily detectable. This was the first step that launched the Space Race during the Cold War.
First Man in Space 1961
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Russia scored yet another victory against the US when Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man on space on 12th April 1961. He was in a small craft, and his flight was 108 minutes. Yuri was only 27 years old at the time. He was one of more than 200 Russian Air Force fighter pilots selected for the mission. Since the craft known as “Vostok 1” had no engine to slow down its descent into the earth, Gagarin ejected and parachuted to earth. This fact wasn’t revealed until 1971. The first spacewalk was done four years later in 1965 by another Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov.
1966 – First Spacecraft on the Moon
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The US pulled ahead on the Space Race when NASA sent the first spacecraft to the moon. The “Surveyor 1” was the first of the Surveyor program to make a soft landing on the moon. The purpose of the surveyor program was to support the arrival of the Apollo missions which would be carrying entire crews. They were supposed to figure out the technology necessary to land on the safe on the moon and provide data on how compatible the Apollo missions were with the lunar surface. They also provided more information on the moon.
1968 – First Manned Craft to Orbit the Moon
Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to leave earth space and orbit the moon before returning safely on earth. It was manned by three astronauts who became the first people to leave earth’s atmosphere. They were able to see the earth as a whole planet also saw the far side of the moon directly. They took photos of the earth from their unique viewpoint; it looked like a tiny bluish marble. They also took photos of Earthrise, the earth as it emerged from behind the lunar horizon. They reentered the earth safely and landed on the Pacific Ocean.
In the picture: The crew of NASA’s Apollo 8, Florida, December 1968. Pictured are, from left, command module pilot James Lovell, lunar module pilot William Anders, and Commander Frank Borman. (Photo by NASA/Interim Archives/Getty Images)
1976 – First Spacecraft on Mars
Having conquered the moon, NASA took the next logical step, explore our closest neighbor. Mars is the fourth planet from the sun after Mercury, Venus, and Earth. It had the closest characteristics to earth and was therefore thought to be able to support life. However, missions to mars proved that no biological form existed on the planet. The first spacecraft on Mars was the “Viking 1” which landed on Mars on 20th July 1976. The spacecraft took detailed photos of Mars and also monitored the weather on Mars. It was joined by “Viking 2” later that year. Both spacecraft are currently inactive.
In the picture: A Mars lander of the “Viking 1” mission produced this first image of the red planet’s surface. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
1990 – The First Optical Space Telescope
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The “Hubble Space Telescope” became the first optical telescope based in space. It is named after Dr. Hubble who confirmed the expanding universe which formed the basis of the big bang theory. The “Hubble Space Telescope” was launched from the space shuttle Discovery on 24th April 1990. It sent the first image on 20th April 1990. It has incredible pointing accuracy and can lock onto an image without deviating; this is why it can take pictures even though it is unmanned.
The International Space Station
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With the Cold War over and with it the Space Race, Russia and the US joined hands together with three other space agencies to construct the International Space Station. The first components of the station were delivered in 1998, and the final part was outfitted in 2011. It will be operational until 2028. It is a habitable satellite that is in low earth orbit. There have been developments to the station over the years, and there are new parts scheduled to be launched in 2018 and 2019. It is the most significant human-made body on the earth’s orbit. It can even be seen on the naked eye sometimes.
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Now that there had been numerous successful trips to space in manned spacecraft, it was time to take it to the next level, space tourism. People could now travel to space for leisure and recreational purposes. The only company that has successfully performed orbital space tourism is the Russian Space Agency. However, companies such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Space X are working to ensure that they are not left far behind. The first ever space tourist was Dennis Tito who took a flight to the International Space Station on the Russian Soyuz Station. He paid $20 million for the trip.
First Private Spacecraft
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Now that governments had paved the way for space exploration, it was time for the private industry to take over. The first ever private spaceflight took place on 21st June 2004 when “SpaceShipOne” flew to the boundary between Earth and Space. It was flown by pilot Mike Melville. The vehicle took two more flights, on 24th September and 4th October the same year. It was made by Scaled Composite. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen backed its construction the vehicle took a total of 17 flights achieving spaceflight on the 15th flight.