By : Sarvesh
The 12th of April is celebrated as the international day of human space flight. On this day 60 years ago, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go to space. We have come a long way since. To appreciate the present one must learn the past.
At the peak of the cold war, money was poured into the space research organizations by both superpowers. The Soviets always had better rocket systems and on 4 October 1957, 7:28 pm the first man-made satellite ‘SPUTNIK’ was launched into orbit. In 1958, the U.S. launched its satellite, Explorer I. That same year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a public order creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a federal agency dedicated to space exploration.
In 1959, the Soviet space program took another step forward with the launch of Luna 2, the first space probe to hit the moon. Two years after, Yuri Gagarin, traveling in the capsule-like spacecraft Vostok 1 made history.
The Americans retaliated later that May. President John F. Kennedy made the bold, public claim that the U.S. would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. -NASA’s budget was increased almost 500 percent. On July 16, 1969, U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins set off on the Apollo 11 space mission, the first lunar landing attempt. One-sixth of the world’s population tuned in to see history being made. They were celebrated as heroes of humanity and this effectively concluded the cold war. Subsequently, Apollo 12 and 13 missions were green-lit. Truly a golden age for human space flight.
Then it all stopped. Ironically with the end of the cold war, manned missions to the moon and beyond froze. There was no incentive for the governments, there was no race to be won. There have been no manned missions to the moon in half a century. People say there is a silver lining to everything, and to the cold war, it came in form of huge funding and resource pooling towards the space industry. With no political pressure, funding greatly decreased and science took a backseat.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. It was first believed that everything right here was the universe. Then we compromised on being the center of the universe. We soon realized that the sun which was supposed to revolve around us, is actually a million times the size of our small round planet and it was us revolving around it. Later we grasped that our entire solar system is an insignificant fraction of a rather small galaxy. With powerful telescopes, we have discovered 2 trillion more galaxies. The scale of things truly becomes incomprehensible. To think the furthest a human has ever been is to the moon can suddenly seem demotivating but it truly is an incredible milestone in the history of our species. Even a journey of a billion miles begins with a small step.
In less than a century, the human population would become too much for the earth to handle. With a projected number of 9.9 billion by 2050, a war for resources is inevitable. The only place left for us….is up there, beyond our planet. Inexhaustible quantities of raw materials on various asteroids and mars are crucial for the continuation of our species.
The current goal for humanity is to colonize Mars. We have managed to launch several orbiters and even land rovers on Mars. Years of research have concluded the presence of ice and dried-up river and ocean beds on the Martian surface. This indicates mars had liquid water similar to earth. We have discovered all necessary chemicals to have sustained life on Mars in the past. If we can discover Martian life even in the form of a microbe or fossils, we would have answered one of earth’s biggest questions, “Are we alone?” The answer to this will yet again challenge our place and importance in the universe.
We all are aware of Elon Musk’s plan to go to the red planet. His plan to colonize mars involves getting a million people there by 2050. The vehicle entrusted with humanity’s graduation to a multi-planetary species is Space X’s ‘Starship’ fleet. While a million people to Mars in the next 2 decades seems outlandish, the technology being developed and the ship isn’t. Collaboration of the sharpest minds, working together will surely land us on the red planet in our lifetime. It is baffling to realize that the first human to walk on another world has already been born.
We have barely begun to scratch the surface of discovering our cosmic neighborhood. With dimes and nickels as funding and military-minded goals of governments, humanity will likely remain earth-bound for decades to come. There is certainly no better way of uncovering the secrets of the cosmos than by reaching for the unknown.
This is one of my favorite quotes ever was given by Carl Sagan on what is essentially earth’s first selfie. This photograph of Earth taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 at a distance of 6 billion kilometers from the Sun, somewhere near Saturn is dubbed the Pale Blue Dot’ (the cover picture) “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor, and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
We miss the bigger picture as we continue our prolonged wars on defending our different ideologies. While we practice our politics, shed blood, and remain ignorant, the universe awaits. Our goal as a space-faring civilization must be to grow and expand, uncovering the many secrets the universe hides. The ingredients of life are found everywhere in the expanse of this universe. If life could exist here, even by a billion to one chance, it must exist elsewhere too. I believe it’s not a question of “if aliens exist” but a question of “where”. Will, we ever be advanced enough to contact them or will we succumb to our differences?. Only time will tell.