The Chronicle of Space Exploration The Past, The Present, and The Future



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The Chronicle of Space Exploration
The Past, The Present, and The Future



Austin Gunder

05-31-05


Bruce Lusignan

EDGE 297C


It was something that intrigued you ever since you were just a young child. Looking skyward on a clear summer night, the beauty and serenity of the thousands of stars and planets can be mesmerizing. It affects everyone who takes a minute to look upwards into the darkness. What all is out there? How far does it go? People have been pondering these same basic questions since the earliest civilizations settled on earth. The human imagination runs wild with the vast mysteries that space presents. As the great philosopher Aristotle stated, “All men by nature desire knowledge.” Standing alone and gazing up into the darkness, it doesn’t take long to realize that there is much more to this world than the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The Beginning

Documentation of people being interested in the realms of outer space dates back thousands of years. It began with people believing that the Sun, Moon, and stars played an integral role in the cycle of human life. These people associated these things with gods, goddesses, and heroes. Their understanding was completely in a mythical sense, and contained no dependability on scientific issues. As human culture expanded, people began to open their horizons to a more scientific viewpoint on topics such as outer space. It is documented that by 3000 B.C. the Babylonians had began to make careful observations of the heavens. It was not too long after this that the Egyptians had created a calendar and a catalog of stars. The Greeks followed soon after with charts, tables, and ideas of for the motion of the Sun, Moon, and stars (Frontier, 3).

Although people dreamed about the exploration of space for a long time, the thought was really stimulated when Galileo Galilei invented and constructed a telescope in 1609 (Frontier, ix). For the first time in history, people could get a closer look at the stars, which invigorated the imagination even more. The ability to have a more close-up look at the stars and planets had people’s imaginations racing (Frontier, 5).

The Development of Rocketry

While it was most likely not realized at the time, the first true step towards getting into space dates all the way back to approximately 360 B.C. It was around this time that a Greek named Archytas first demonstrated the reaction principle, which is the basic physical law of rocket motion. He employed the simple technique of heating water to produce steam. This steam then escaped a small wooden pigeon through strategically placed holes, in effect propelling it along a wire (Roots, NP).

Somewhere around the year 200 B.C. the Chinese were reported to have mastered the ability to mix charcoal, saltpeper, and sulphur in order to create what we commonly know today as gunpowder. By the late thirteenth century, the Chinese had used their concoction to develop rockets in a very straightforward sense. The first Chinese rockets were very similar to the fireworks that we know today. A cylindrical container of gunpowder was sealed at the top and mounted to a long stick. When the gunpowder was

Above is a diagram of the earliest known form of rocketry.
ignited, the gases could only escape from the rear of the tube, which in turn created a thrust that propelled the rocket forward. The purpose of the stick was to stabilize it during flight. Not surprisingly, it was very close to this date that devices such as Chinese Fire-Arrows were reported to be used as an aide in battle. By the end of the thirteenth century this technology had spread throughout Asia and Eastern Europe and became

commonplace in combat (Channel 4, NP).

In 1686, Sir Isaac Newton boosted interest in rocketry with the publication of his three laws of motion. These laws provide a physical and mathematical explanation of how, among many other things, rocket propulsion worked. It was at this point that rocket science was said to be officially “born” (Channel 4, NP). The study and experimentation of rockets continued throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century without any monumental discoveries. It was in 1903 that the next momentous innovation was made. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a Russian school teacher, adopted a scientific approach to rocket-powered space travel. He derived many equations that summarized the relationships between rocket velocity, mass of propellant, and velocity of ejected gases. These equations, known as the “rocket equations,” laid the groundwork for all rocket design in the future. His most influential discovery, however, was probably that of liquid propellants for fuel instead of solid. Tsiolkovsky realized that the liquid propellant had the potential to give rockets enough velocity and range to allow the vessel to leave the atmosphere (Channel 4, NP).

After the publication of Tsiolkovsky’s discoveries, the use of liquid propellant moved to the forefront of development. It was not until March 16, 1926, however, that the first successful flight of a liquid propelled rocket was made. This particular rocket was designed by an American scientist by the name of Robert Goddard. Although the first flight lasted a mere 2.5 seconds and landed fifty-six meters from the launch site, it was a huge leap in the development of rocketry. Goddard’s work in the field of rocketry earned him the honor of becoming known as “The Father of Modern Rocketry” (Frontier, 11).

In 1932 Germany adopted Werner Von Braun to secretly develop rocket powered weapons for their military. It took only a few months before Von Braun’s team got an alcohol/liquid oxygen powered V2 rocket to travel 200 kilometers and accurately strike its target. In September of 1944, the first of Germany’s rockets began to rain down on London. At the end of the war, to avoid capture by Soviet forces, Von Braun and his team surrendered to the United States Army. Now working in conjunction with the US space program, Von Braun spent the next several years perfecting his V2 rocket into a military masterpiece. Following this he moved on to begin development on the Redstone rockets, which would eventually become the heart of the United States space program. Von Braun earned his US citizenship in 1955, upon which time he joined NASA and continued designing the rockets that would soon carry America into the space race against the Soviets (Channel 4, NP).

While Werner Von Braun was developing the US program, the Soviets were also working hard to expand on their own program. By 1948, the Soviet Union had built copies of Von Braun’s first A4 rockets, called the R-1, and began testing. By the time 1948 rolled around, the Soviets had developed their very own design, the R-2E, and were beginning to complete test flights. It was with these rockets that the Soviets began to contemplate the idea of manned spaceflight. Between the years of 1949 and 1952, a total of 24 dogs were chosen to be launched in rockets. The canines were fitted with space suites and helmets, and were strapped in the nosecone of the rocket. A camera, as well as many instruments accompanied the dog aloft. The goal was to better understand the stresses and strains that one would undergo during liftoff. In one instance, a dog named Albina was launched to an altitude of 85 km. It took her nearly an hour to parachute back to earth (Soviet, 12).

On October 4, 1957 the Western world was shocked by the world’s first artificial satellite (Soviet, 31). The successful orbit of Sputnik 1 had made it official; the Russians had beaten the Americans into space. Ukrainian Sergei Korolov, the head of the USSR space program, was the first to announce the success of the project. Soon after learning that Sputnik 1 was successfully orbiting the earth, he made an announcement to the world.

“The conquering of space has begun. Today we have witnessed the realization of a dream nurtured by some of the finest minds who ever lived. Our outstanding scientist Tsiolkovsky brilliantly foretold that mankind would not forever remain on earth. Sputnik is the first confirmation of this prophecy. We can be proud this was begun by our country” (Soviet, 32).


This announcement was felt around the world, but nowhere did it hit harder than it did in the United States. The space race was now officially in full swing.

The Race into Space

Sputnik 1 was the culmination of more than two years of continuous toil for the USSR. In October of 1951, the Russian designer Tikhonravov stated that the creation of an earth satellite was feasible. The final authorization of the project was given on August 30, 1955 by the Academy of Sciences. Construction on a new launch pad and new hangars in which to work on the spacecraft began immediately. The Soviets worked all hours of the day in order to try to beat the Americans into space. News of the United States working on their own satellite, Vanguard, motivated the workers to push forward. The design of Sputnik vas a very simple one. It was essentially a radio transmitter in a spherical steel ball with four whiplash aerials streaming out the back. In the middle of





Shown above is a picture of Sputnik 1
September, 1957 Moscow radio confirmed that the launch of Sputnik was very near. On October 2, 1957 the craft was finally ready to be launched. It was rolled out of the hangar and made its way to the launch pad via railcar. The first attempt to actually fire the rocket was made on the morning of October 4. Several attempt to countdown failed throughout the day, all due to different minute problems. It was well after dark when the decision was made to make one more attempt. This one would be the charm. Fire flew from the nozzles and smoke engulfed the area as the rocket carrying Sputnik lifted off of the platform. The launch team watched intently as sputnik accelerated skyward, finally disappearing into the crisp Russian night. The launch had been a success, but that did not ensure the success of orbit. The only way to know involved a ninety minute wait in order to see if the transmitter responded. If it did, the satellite must be in orbit around the Earth, but if it didn’t, the mission would be a total failure. The entire crew gathered in a hangar to wait for the result. Right on time, the beeps of Sputnik’s transmitter was heard over the loudspeaker. The Russian’s had successfully put an artificial satellite into orbit (Soviet, 31).

Korolov did not waste much time celebrating the success of Sputnik 1. He already had another project in mind. Sputnik 2 was to be launched as soon as possible. While the purpose of Sputnik 1 was focused largely on simply getting an artificial satellite to orbit, Sputnik 2 would be much more complicated. Furthermore, a rumor circulated that this one would carry a living animal.

Sputnik 2 was nearly five times more massive than its predecessor. It consisted of two separate compartments. One was to hold many instruments to measure variables such as cosmic rays, temperature, and pressure. The second compartment was pressurized, and designed to inhabit a dog. On November 3, 1957, less than a month after the launch of Sputnik 1, the second Soviet satellite was launched into orbit. The shock of this launch hit even harder than that of the first. The United States was falling farther behind by the day, and the presence of a living animal in space indicated that it would not be long before the Russians had a man orbiting Earth (Soviet, 33).

On the sixth of December, 1957, the American satellite Vanguard was finally ready for launch. The exhilaration of the early seconds of liftoff from the pad in Cape Canaveral did not last long. A mere few seconds in to the air the thrust let off, and the rocket and satellite fell back to Earth in a ball of flames. It was an embarrassing moment in history for the Americans (Spaceflight, 74).

It was not until the early days of 1958 that Von Braun’s Redstone-Jupiter C rocket was approved for launch. On the evening of January 31, 1958 the Redstone rocket, fitted with a pencil shapes satellite on top, rose into the night sky. The satellite was a complete scientific success. It was fitted with a Geiger counter which discovered that the Earth had huge radiation belts surrounding it. What made the situation worse was the fact that Von Braun had been seeking approval for launch since the end of 1955, and would have been ready for launch early in 1956. It was not until march of 1958 that Vanguard finally achieved orbit. It was the smallest satellite ever launched, weighing in at just 1 kg (Spaceflight, 77).

On May 15, 1958 Sputnik 3 was put in to orbit by the Soviets. This one was much more complicated than its precursors. Weighing in at over a ton and a half, Sputnik 3 contained a computer to run the onboard instruments. During its 691 day orbit, it collected information on radiation belts, cosmic rays, solar radiation, the density of the upper atmosphere, and the effect of high energy particles (Soviet, 35).



The Race to Put a Man in Space

It was very obvious from the progression of the USSR space program that the long term objective was to get a man into space. America, realizing that they were way behind started to kick it in high gear. In October of 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was created. Within just seven days of establishment NASA announced its man-in-space program called Project Mercury. Once again however, it was the Soviets that were leading the game. The Lunik program was designed to prove that a spacecraft could reach the moon. Although Lunik 1 failed, Lunik 2 followed very soon after and hit dead on target. As the humiliation of the precision accuracy of Lunik 2 wasn’t enough for the US, Lunik 3 was launched three weeks later. At first very confusing to onlookers, Lunik 3 did not take a path to collide with the moon. Instead it wrapped around the backside in a figure-eight pattern. It was at this time that Lunik 3 really went to work. Two separate cameras took picture upon picture of the hidden side of the moon. These pictures were then developed and transmitted back to the Soviet space station via very sophisticated radio equipment. Although the process did not come out as clear as hoped, there were still nine frames that successfully made it back. The Russians posted these historic shots the next week, and it was the first time that anyone could observe the opposite side of the moon. 1959 ended with grief for the US program. It seemed that the gap between the two powers was steadily widening (Soviet, 37).

In order to try and get an edge, President Eisenhower began to order spy missions with the new US spy plane, the U-2. Designed to be untouchable, the long, skinny U-2 flew at an impressive 25,000 m (1.5 miles) above the surface. The idea was that it flew out of range of the most modern anti-aircraft weapons. After learning that the Russians were close to testing there new rocket, a mission was ordered to fly above the launch pad and get photographs of the new design. Gary Powers flew his U-2 gracefully over the target, collecting numerous pictures of the rocket on the pad. Just as he began his slow turn back to home, he was startled by an explosion in the tail. The U-2 wasn’t so invincible after all. The young pilot bailed out and parachuted into the Soviet forest where he was soon captured and held on charges of spying. Khrushchev was furious. He stormed out of the Paris summit and ridiculed the Americans for spying. The incident would mark the end of American spy flights over Russia (Spaceflight, 95).

It was a mere two weeks after the U-2 episode that Sputnik 4 was launched. This time the satellite was equipped with a dummy cosmonaut in order to test the ability of putting a man in space. The launch and orbit worked flawlessly, but re-entry was no so trouble-free. A retrorocket was fitted in order to slow down the carft and allow it to re-enter the atmosphere. Instead of doing this, however, the rocket fired the craft into high orbit where it stayed for four years until finally burning up in 1965. Despite the failure of Sputnik 4, the Russians began to recruit Cosmonauts to fly the first manned flight. Sputnik 5 was put into orbit in August of 1960. The major difference between this flight and that of its predecessor was the fact that instead of a dummy cosmonaut, Sputnik 5 was inhabited by two dogs. Once again launch and orbit went as planned, but re-entry was going to be the real test. This time the retrorocket worked as planned. At 8,000 m above earth parachutes were deployed to slow down the craft. It floated to the surface at a gradual 6 m/s. Soviet farmers were the first to spot the spacecraft, and watched as it landed in their pastures. Workers from the space program were on scene in a matter of minutes, anxious to see if the precious cargo had survived the flight. Much to the satisfaction of the workers, the experiment was a total success. Both dogs were alive and well (Soviet, 47).

The success of the Soviets wore hard on the Americans. Although great leaps were being made by the US program, it was only a matter of time before the Russians had a man in space. This was a fact that the Russians had no intent of keeping secret. In August of 1960, the following was broadcasted on Moscow Radio,

“Practical possibilities are now being created for man’s flight into outer space. A manned spaceflight could be made in the near future. Less than three years after the launching of the first spaceship we are n the immediate threshold of manned flight.”


The American program was going to have to make great strides in a short amount of time

if they were going to be anywhere close to keeping up with the steadfast and purposeful

Soviet program (Soviet, 48).

In a final preparation for manned flight, Korolov ordered the launch of Sputnik 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 in a rather rapid succession. Each of the flights had its own purpose, and all put the Soviet program a little step closer to achieving the ultimate goal. The last two missions were completed with flawless ease. It was time for the final test; it was time to put a man into space. Korolov started the process of narrowing his original twenty cosmonauts to just one. In the end, he chose Yuri Gagarin, the brightest and most balanced of the group of candidates. Gagarin had always made it clear that he desired to be the first into space, so the match was perfect. The final assembly of the craft that would carry Gagarin into space was completed on April 5. It was April 11 before the spacecraft was actually on the pad. All final checks were performed and the Vostok rocket was declared ready for launch. In the early morning hours of April 12, the team gathered in preparation of the final test. Yuri Gagarin gave a final appreciation speech, and then gingerly climbed into the rocket and closed the hatch behind him. The boosters fired and the rocket lumbered off of the pad. It rose slowly at first, and then began to accelerate at a rapid rate. The engine stayed on for a perilous eight minutes before the vibration stopped and the rocket fell totally silent. Yuri Gagarin was orbiting the Earth. Over the next hour and a half Gagarin spent time testing the ability to eat and drink in space, acclimate himself to the zero gravity environment, and admire the amazing view of the Earth that no one before him had ever seen. At 10:25 AM rockets fired to slow the speed of the craft, allowing it to gently fall out of orbit and re-enter the atmosphere. At 8,000 m above the surface Gagarin was ejected from the capsule and left him free under two large parachutes. Gagarin floated safely downward into the Russian farmland. It was now official. The first manned spaceflight, although lasting a mere 108 minutes, had been completed successfully, and was the beginning of a new era in space travel. Yuri Gagarin was immediately promoted from a no-name Russian test pilot to a world wide hero. Once again, the news came as another blow to the American ego. Their efforts to keep up with the untiring Soviet program began to seem fruitless. (Soviet, 59).

In a desperate effort to try and salvage some dignity, President Kennedy decided to make an enormous attempt to outdo the Soviets. NASA, Werner Von Braun, and the Pentagon were all consulted in an effort to generate a plan that would overtake the USSR. On May 5, 1961 America finally managed to put its own astronaut into space. Alan Shepard was successful in maneuvering his Mercury rocket into outer space and back to Earth safely. The triumphant flight was able to restore a bit of morale in the US program, and initiated the ambitious plans to take the program to the next level. Two days after the success of Alan Shepard’s flight, President Kennedy called a special congressional session in order to announce that he intended to establish a program that would put an American on the Moon by 1969. After less than an hour of deliberation, Kennedy’s Moon program was approved by congress, and the race to the Moon was underway (Countdown, 174).



The Race to the Moon

The following years saw both the United Sates and Russia attempting to perfect their spaceflight in order to be comfortable enough to send a man to the Moon. The Americans successfully sent a second man into space, Virgil Grissom. Similar to Shepard’s mission Grissom simply climbed in to outer space and came back down safely. It was not monumental, but helped to build the confidence of not only the space program employees, but also the American people as a whole (Countdown, 190).

The Soviet rocket, Vostok 2, lifted off on the morning of August 6, 1961. This time piloted by Gherman Titov, the plan was to stay in orbit for a complete day before re-entering the atmosphere. This involved 17 orbits of the earth. During this time, a television camera transmitted Titov’s every move back to Earth at ten frames per second. A variety of experiments, including a full night sleep, were conducted during the twenty-five hours the craft was in orbit. At the end of the seventeenth orbit, the retrorockets were fired, diminishing the velocity of the spacecraft and allowing it to re-enter. Titov parachuted down effortlessly to the safety of the Soviet countryside (Soviet, 65).

America, feeling the pressure of the Soviet success, had yet to put a man into orbit. Finally, on September 13, 1961, after three consecutive failures, Mercury/Atlas 4 made a successful orbit. At the end of November in the same year, NASA sent MA-5 into orbit with a chimpanzee on board. Although the test had to end a day early, enough confidence was built to schedule the first manned orbit. At last, on February 20, 1962 John Glenn climbed into the capsule of Friendship 7. Although the flight had its tribulations, it successfully orbited the Earth and returned Glenn safely nearly five hours after liftoff. Although still behind the ball, the US had finally began to draw closer to the Soviet program (Frontier, 46).

The Soviets were confronted by a bit of a dilemma after the two Vostok

successes. Should they attempt to put a man on the Moon like the Americans, or take on a different route? The answer was not very difficult for communist leader Nikita Khrushchev. Already leading the American space program by a large margin, why let down now? Khrushchev and Korolov decided that there was no other way than to go to the Moon. The way that they planned to do this was through the new generation spacecraft called the Soyuz. The problem with this was the fact that the Soyuz was made up of three different components which would then rendezvous while in orbit. As this had never been attempted before, there were a lot of question marks regarding this process. In order to test this procedure, Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 were to be launched. The two rockets were launched on successive days in early August, 1962. The purpose was to see if they could get close enough to be able to rendezvous in future missions. The five day mission was a total success. The two crafts got as close as 850 m to each other without any kind of maneuvering capabilities. This proved that the Soyuz rocket would be a feasible option to get the Soviets to the moon (Soviet, 74).

Over the following years, both the Soviets and the Americans were performing many test flights with Lunar and Venus probes. This gave them the opportunity to refine the abilities of landing on a distant planet while at the same time developing the manned missions that were in the future. Neither the US, nor the USSR had a large amount of success with these missions. Many of the probes either missed the intended planet completely, or were not successful at landing on the planet without destroying the craft. The Russians suffered a terrible setback with the death of their head man, Sergei Korolov. Korolov died in a routine surgery that was supposed to remove a tumor in his colon. This setback, however, did not stop the Soviet program from pushing onward. On the last day of January in 1966, the Soviets once again left the Americans behind when their spacecraft, Luna 9, was the first to successfully land on the Moon and survive. This was a great feat because the most problematic procedure to date had been being able to softly land a spacecraft on such a distant surface. 1966 ended with the Russians once again well ahead of the Americans in the development of space exploration (Soviet, 110).



The Picture Above is of Luna 9, the first spacecraft to successfully land on the Moon.

1967 began with a tragedy for the US program. During the final test of Apollo 1, the craft that NASA planned to use to get America to the moon, a fire broke out and the three astronauts inside were all killed. The beginning of the year for the Soviets didn’t prove to be much better. Soyuz 1 was finally launched and successfully achieved orbit on April 23. The plan was that Soyuz 2 would follow twenty-four hours later and the two crafts would rendezvous in orbit. This plan disintegrated, however, when Soyuz 1 was lost less than 12 hours into the mission (Soviet, 119).

Both sides of the race began to recover in 1968. The US program was finally beginning to make progress with the Apollo project. Exploratory probes were sent to the Moon to map out possible landing sites for Apollo, and several satellites were orbited around the Moon to take pictures for information gathering. Apollo 2-6 were all successful unmanned missions that allowed NASA to further develop the spacecraft and make it safe for manned flight. Apollo 7 was the first manned mission by this series of craft. It was completed with amazing ease. An 11 day mission that saw almost no problems, NASA began to gain confidence in their program. This gave enough boost to launch Apollo 8 just two months later. This would be the first manned spacecraft to ever orbit the moon. The mission was a success, and many landing sites were found to be possibilities for the first landing. 1968 ended in triumph for the American program. Not only did they have many successful missions, but they also seemingly pulled ahead of the Soviets for the first time in the space race. The Soviets were successful in sending multiple unmanned probes to the Moon, but were not yet ready to run the risk with a man on board. The US program continued its success in the early months of 1969 with the successful missions of Apollo 9 and 10. Apollo 10 was nothing but a dress rehearsal for the Moon landing. Everything step was carried out except for the final descent to the surface. The Soviets, now realizing that the chances of beating the US to the moon was becoming more unlikely all the time, decided to change the direction of their program. To save themselves the humiliation, Soviet officials claimed that the purpose of their missions were never to get to the moon, but rather to study other aspects of deep space. Whether this was the truth or not, NASA and the US program had the undisputed lead of the space race (Frontier, 82).

It was the afternoon of July 20, 1969. Billions of people watch the television as Lance Armstrong climbs down the ladder of the Eagle and becomes the first man ever to step foot on a foreign world. His famous words of “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” will forever remain as one of the most significant statements in world history. Buzz Aldrin followed down the ladder soon after Armstrong, and the two explored the terrain close to the Eagle and took several samples of soil and rocks. The astronauts also left behind many scientific instruments, as well as messages of goodwill from more than seventy nations on Earth. Just over twenty one hours after touching down on the surface, the two-man crew lifted off and rejoined with the Columbia. Apollo 11 hit the Pacific Ocean on July 24, eight days after it lifted off from Cape Canaveral. The astronauts immediately were subjected to a three week quarantine because the effects of exposure to the Moon’s environment were still unknown. It was the most impressive of all space missions to date. Man was now able to send one of it’s own to another world, and return safely. This also put the US well ahead of the Soviets in the space race (Frontier, 93).

Over the period of the next three years, NASA conducted six more missions with the Apollo program. For the most part, things went very well for the Americans. Apollo 13 caused some concern when an explosion caused the crew to use the lunar module as a lifeboat, but mission control was successful in designing a procedure to get the crew back to Earth safely. NASA recovered very quickly and Apollo 14 was launched less than a year after the Apollo 13 scare. The remaining missions saw a variety of different experiments conducted. Apollo 15 spent three days on the moon and the astronauts were able to roam the lunar surface freely by way of a lunar rover. December 1972’s Apollo 17 mission was the last of the Apollo project. The Americans had realized arguably the greatest achievement in history. They had successfully put man on the Moon on a continuous basis. The Russians on the other hand did not have such a glorious ending. After all of the years of work and anguish, they had nothing to show for it in the end. Knowing that the Americans had defeated them in the race, the Soviets pretended to have never been involved in the race in the first place. They then regrouped and went back to work. The exploration of outer space was merely in its beginning stages (Frontier, 100).

Long Duration Space Travel

One of the biggest focal points during the post Moon era was to prove the ability of spending long durations of time in outer space. It was the highest priority of both major nations, although they both continued other missions involving meteorological satellites, wartime satellites, and the unmanned exploration of other more distant planets such as Mars and Venus. In April of 1971, the USSR launched Salyut 1, their first of many space stations. The goal was then for Soyuz 10 to rendezvous with Salyut, but this was a failure because the crew could not open the hatch into the station. Later the same month, Soyuz 11 was successful in gaining access to the space station which made them the first crew to occupy a space station. The visit to the station was a success, and numerous experiments were conducted, however, the crew of Soyuz 11 died on re-entry into the atmosphere. Over the course of the next ten years, the Soviets would launch six more space stations and successfully rendezvous with them (Timeline, NP).

On May 14, 1973 the United States launched Skylab. The first mission was unmanned, and was simply to put the space station into orbit. There were vibration problems on launch which caused the destruction of two of the solar panels which were supposed to power the craft. Skylab 2 had to be postponed in order to train its crew in procedures that would make the space station habitable. Skylab 2 got underway on May 25 of the same year, and successfully rendezvoused with the station. The crew was in space for a total of nearly 29 days. During this period they repaired the damaged station, as well as conducted numerous medical and Earth resource experiments. The total duration of the flight more than doubled that of the previous record (Skylab, NP).

Skylab 3 also impressed when it once again doubled the record duration in space with a mission of over 59 days. The crew continued maintenance on the station as well conducting hundreds of medical and scientific experiments. Skylab 4, the final of the Skylab missions was launched on February 8, 1974. With a total of an impressive 84 days in space, the crew once again conducted hundreds of experiments, as well as observing and photographing the Comet Kohutek. After the completion of Skylab 4, all systems were shut down, and the station was put in a stable orbit. It finally fell out of orbit in 1979, and scattered itself across the southeastern Indian Ocean (Skylab, NP).





Above is a picture of Skylab, America’s first space station.

After a long and heated competition between the Soviets and the Americans to outdo each other in outer space, it was time for a bit of a change. The next step in the grand scheme of learning as much as possible about the realms of outer space was, believe it or not to somewhat join forces. In July of 1975, the US Apollo 18 docked with the Soviet Soyuz 19. It would mark the first ever international space rendezvous. This would be the mere beginning of a myriad of international cooperation to come (Timeline, NP).

The remainder of the 1970’s saw many continuations of the present missions. The Soviets continued to launch their Salyut stations and service them regularly. Furthermore, both the Soviets and the Americans continued to develop unmanned probes that studied planets that were further away. Also, satellites were beginning to be deployed for very practical everyday uses. Among these include military uses, meteorological studies, national security, and GPS navigation. It was in this era that normal civilians really began to reap the benefits of space technology.

In 1981, America started a new era in space travel that would carry them almost to the present day. The first space shuttle, Columbia, lifted off the pad and headed

skyward on April 12. The sole purpose of the mission was to put the shuttle into orbit, and make sure all systems performed properly. All went as planned and the shuttle touched down two days after liftoff. The following three missions had the same basic objectives as the first. NASA wanted to assure the fact that all systems would work properly because the shuttle was expected to be a long term craft. On the fifth mission, the shuttle carried a business systems satellite into orbit. It was the first functional mission of the shuttle and everything went according to plan. This was just the beginning of a myriad of successful missions yet to come. Over the next few years, the shuttle carried numerous satellites into outer space, as well as performing thousands of experiments, completing many space walks, and carrying the first women into space (Shuttle, NP).

On January 28, 1986, NASA would be forced to re-evaluate its space shuttle program. Less than two minutes after liftoff, the shuttle Challenger exploded in mid-air. The crew and craft were both lost, and NASA had to halt all space operations in order to put their full effort into a massive investigation to get to the bottom of the mystery. It was found later that the problem had occurred in one of the two large liquid fuel tanks that accompany the shuttle in the early stages of the flight. One of them had a minuscule leak, which allowed the fuel to come in contact with the intense heat of the main booster. Upon contact, the fuel ignited causing a deadly explosion that left debris scattered over a very large radius. This accident caused a delay of nearly two years before NASA officials were ready to put another shuttle into space. The program did however recover, and continue its successful missions. The primary objectives of the craft were to carry a payload into space, usually some sort of satellite or a space station, and then conduct experiments while in orbit. NASA would continue to use the shuttle through the eighties and beyond (Shuttle, NP).

The Soviets, as usual, did not let the Americans get too far ahead of them. They built their own shuttle, the Buran, in the early eighties, but never carried through with the process. Although early test flights looked promising, the funding was cut short due to several reasons, and the program had to be halted. Although their shuttle did not work out, the Soviets wasted no time putting their own space station into orbit. On February 20, 1986 the first element of MIR was launched by the Soviets. Over the next 15 years, many other modules were pieced on to MIR. The Soyuz-TM spacecraft is used to carry crews and supplies back and forth to the station. The Progress-M craft is used to carry scientific supplies to the space station, and then returns to Earth with any types of waste that the station creates. Over the fifteen years that MIR was in orbit, it set many endurance records and was the site of thousands of experiments. During its time in orbit, people from all edges of the world have visited the space station. It was also the site of a lot of joint Soviet/American missions. In March of 2001, after well outliving its expected time in operation, MIR was taken out of orbit. The reasons ranged a number of different things, but most prominent was the fact that after being in orbit for so long, almost seven years longer than it was designed for, the station had begun to become somewhat unreliable, and could possibly pose a safety threat to the human lives, American, Soviet, and others, that were aboard (MIR, NP).



International Space Station

Currently a work in progress, The International Space Station is the largest and most long-term space laboratory ever to be built. It is, as the name suggests, a program built to bring together the nations of the world into one force, in hopes that this will allow much more production in the form of progress in space. The first piece of the space station was launched in November of 1998. It was carried into orbit by a Russian proton rocket. The next mission followed in May of 1999. In this instance, the American space shuttle carried a piece into orbit. Astronauts then perform in-space assembly of the two pieces. The following mission, in 2000, is also performed by the American shuttle, and is simply a preparation mission for components of the station that will come in the near future. In 2001, the shuttle delivered the first research laboratory to the station. Missions




Above is a picture of the International Space Station, the largest and most long term operation ever embarked upon in outer space.

such as these would continue to add components on to the station. Both the Soviets and the Americans contributed to this process. The US launched components into orbit using the space shuttle, and Russia did the same by way of their proton rocket and Soyuz spacecraft (Discovery, NP).

The whole process would be forced to make major changes in February of 2003. On this day, the space shuttle Columbia, making its normal re-entry flight, disappeared from the radar. A panic was immediately assumed in the space center in Houston, and a mass search was on to find out what happened. It was declared soon after that the shuttle was lost, along with all seven members of its crew. A long investigation was put underway in order to find out the exact cause for the loss of the Columbia. It was found months later that the entire accident was caused by a very small flaw in the leading edge of the left wing. The incredibly intense friction of re-entry causes enormous amounts of heat, which slowly melted the miniscule flaw into a substantial hole. At this time the heat was allowed to get inside the wing of the craft, which then melted from the inside out. It did not take long after this happened for the shuttle to fail, killing all crew members immediately. The United States has not launched a manned spacecraft since this incident (NASA, NP).

Following the Columbia investigation, NASA began a return to flight program. The objectives of this mission will be very different from any other shuttle mission in recent history. It will consist mostly of testing safety procedures to benefit missions in the future, as well as supply much needed provisions to the International Space Station. Previous to launching this next mission, which will consist of a seven member crew inhabiting the space shuttle Discovery, many improvements have been made to make it safer. Not only did NASA take care of all recommendations made by the National safety board, they also went above and beyond in a “raising the bar” program, to push space safety to a new level. The mission was planned to take place in March of 2005, but it was once again delayed after being on the pad for a number of days. At the present, the shuttle Discovery is back in the vehicle assembly building in order to change its external tank. The mission is planned to once again be back on the pad in mid July, and hopefully be back in orbit by the end of that month (NASA, NP).

While the United Sates was investigating the Columbia and going through the process of getting the return to flight program underway, China managed to put its first

man into space. On October 15, 2003, a single Chinese astronaut named Yang Liwei lifted off from a pad in the Gobi desert. The spacecraft, Shenzhou 5, is based very much off of the Russian Soyuz craft. Upon success of this mission, China became only the third nation on Earth to be able to independently put a human being into space. This also means that at the present time there are two nations that are capable of putting a man into space, and America is not one of them (China, NP).

Because of the loss to the American space program, the Russians have had to take on the task of being the sole providers to the space station. The Americans are at the moment totally incapacitated as far as space travel is concerned, therefore the Soviets must take the responsibility on to their shoulders. The hope is that the American program will be back on its feet before too long, and progress on the station can continue as originally planned (Discovery, NP).

Carrying Space Travel into the Future

In the fall 1990, NASA conducted a 90 day study in order to take a look at the potential of continued space travel to the Moon and other planets such as Mars. The goal of this study was to find a feasible way to increase human presence in space, in hopes that some day human settlements will be possible. Throughout this study, NASA found that it may be possible for this to happen. Much of the last fifteen years have been spent slowing working toward this goal. Probes traveling to Mars and other planets have been a regular happening in the United States as well as Russia and China (NASA, NP).

After the Columbia disaster, many people wondered what would become of the American Space Program. Would it continue to lead the world in this dangerous but rewarding business, or would it slow down and take a back seat to the Russians and Chinese who were working diligently to lead the pack. In a conference on January 14, 2004 President Bush met with a multitude of officials, astronauts, and so on at the NASA headquarters in Washington D.C. In this conference, the President assured the country that America would not take a back seat in the world of space exploration. In fact, there were many new programs that would be put into effect, and the program would once again be propelled to the front of the pack. The President stated the following…

Today I announce a new plan to explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system. We will begin the effort quickly, using existing programs and personnel. We'll make steady progress -- one mission, one voyage, one landing at a time.


Furthermore, he talked about specific goals and tasks that would be undertaken during this process. First of which was the completion of the International Space Station by the year 2010. He stated that America would finish what we had started, and meet the obligations to the fifteen international partners that are contributing to the project. In order to complete this task, he stated that the space shuttle would be returned to duty as soon as possible. This would be the means of transportation and supply to the International Space Station (ISS) until a new craft could be developed. The President then stated that the second goal of the program would be to develop and test a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle. The hope is that this craft would be ready for testing no later than 2008, and would be performing manned missions by 2014. It of course will be capable of taking astronauts to and from the ISS, but its main purpose will be to take humans beyond our current capable orbits and into farther reaches of outer space. With the development of this new spacecraft, it is hoped that the space shuttle, after thirty years of service, will be able to be retired in 2010. The third goal that President Bush stated in his conference was that to return to the Moon. The goal with this stage of the program is to be able to inhabit the lunar surface for very long periods of time. If this is feasible, it would then be possible to use the moon as a base in order to launch missions that would travel much deeper into space. The main reason for this is the fact of the fuel saved by not traveling the distance between the Earth and the Moon would allow spacecraft to go much deeper into space than they have ever been before. The President then goes in to the main point of his presentation, being the manned missions to Mars and other distant planets. He states that the completion of ISS, the new spacecraft, and the capability to set up base on the Moon were all mere steps in allowing humans to be able to travel to these other planets. To wrap up this point, Bush states, “We do not know where this journey will end, yet we know this: human beings are headed into the cosmos” (Bush, NP).

After President Bush’s speech, it was very obvious where America planned to go with its space program, but what about Russia? As could be expected, the Soviets also have no intent of slowing down any time in the near future. In fact, a possible replacement for the Soyuz spacecraft was recently announced. It has been pondered for a number of years to replace the reliable but small Soyuz, and now could be the opportunity. The new craft, called the Kliper, would be a major improvement from that of the outdated Soyuz. The main purpose of the craft would be to transport people and supplies to the ISS. On top of this new craft, the Soviets are also in the process of testing a multitude of new technology, that like the Americans, would carry them farther and longer than ever before. Although the space race is officially over, it is very obvious that the competition between the two superpowers in space is still very much in full effect (Russia, NP).

As President Bush stated in his conference to NASA officials, “Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn into unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives, and lifts our national spirit. So let us continue the journey.” The mystery of outer space is something that has intrigued man dating all the way back to the earliest civilizations, and it is something that will continue to intrigue man deep into the future. Space travel has, and will continue to not only improve human lives, but give people revived spirit, whether it be in themselves, their jobs, or their country. A phenomenon that is not likely to slow down any time soon, space travel will lead this country, as well as many others into the future, making the Earth a much better place to live.

Works Cited




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  1. “Timeline”. Channel 4.com. 21 May 2005. <http://www.channel4.com/science/ microsites/E/equinox/timeline.html>.




  1. Timeline of Space Exploration. 22 May 2005. <http://my.execpc.com/~culp/ space/timeline.html>.




  1. Winter, Frank. Spaceflight: A Smithsonian Guide. New York: Macmillan, 1995.


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