Space Exploration

Space Exploration

China Makes Historic Landing on 'Dark Side' of the Moon

Just before 10:30 am Beijing local time on January 3, the robotic spacecraft Chang’e 4 made a soft landing in the South Pole-Aitken Basin area of the moon, otherwise known as the “far side” or “dark side” of Earth’s only natural satellite. It is the first spacecraft in history more

How Landing the First Man on the Moon Cost Dozens of Lives

A half-century ago, NASA was preparing feverishly for a moon landing in a race against the former Soviet Union. The non-stop campaign of testing and launches was also a race against time—specifically to honor slain president John F. Kennedy’s 1961 pledge for the country to land a more

7 Female Adventurers Who Broke All the Rules

Since the beginning of recorded history, bold women have been casting off the shackles of conventional life and traveling land, sea and sky to explore the world. Read on to discover the stories of seven of these courageous women—who ruled empires, discovered lost cities and more

NASA’s final space shuttle mission comes to an end

On July 21, 2011, NASA’s space shuttle program completes its final, and 135th, mission, when the shuttle Atlantis lands at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the program’s 30-year history, its five orbiters—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour—carried more more

Lunik 9 soft-lands on lunar surface

On February 3, 1966, the Soviet Union accomplishes the first controlled landing on the moon, when the unmanned spacecraft Lunik 9 touches down on the Ocean of Storms. After its soft landing, the circular capsule opened like a flower, deploying its antennas, and began transmitting more

Superpowers meet in space

As part of a mission aimed at developing space rescue capability, the U.S. spacecraft Apollo 18 and the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 19 rendezvous and dock in space. As the hatch was opened between the two vessels, commanders Thomas P. Stafford and Aleksei Leonov shook hands and more

UFOs and Alien Invasions in Film

On June 24, 1947, the civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine objects, glowing bright blue-white, flying in a “V” formation over Washington State’s Mount Rainier. He estimated their flight speed at 1,700 mph and compared their motion to “a saucer if you skip it across more

NASA unveils its first space shuttle, the Enterprise

On September 17, 1976, NASA publicly unveils its first space shuttle, the Enterprise, during a ceremony in Palmdale, California. Development of the aircraft-like spacecraft cost almost $10 billion and took nearly a decade. In 1977, the Enterprise became the first space shuttle to more

John Glenn becomes first American to orbit Earth

From Cape Canaveral, Florida, John Herschel Glenn Jr. is successfully launched into space aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft on the first orbital flight by an American astronaut. Glenn, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was among the seven men chosen by the National more

U.S. space shuttle docks with Russian space station

On June 29, 1995, the American space shuttle Atlantis docks with the Russian space station Mir to form the largest man-made satellite ever to orbit the Earth. This historic moment of cooperation between former rival space programs was also the 100th human space mission in more

Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space

On May 5, 1961, Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. is launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 space capsule, becoming the first American astronaut to travel into space. The suborbital flight, which lasted 15 minutes and reached a height of 116 miles into the atmosphere, more

NASA created

The U.S. Congress passes legislation establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a civilian agency responsible for coordinating America’s activities in space, on July 29, 1958. NASA has since sponsored space expeditions, both human and mechanical, that more

The History of Space Exploration

Space exploration refers to outer space travel for the purpose of scientific research and observation. Until 1958 space exploration was considered purely a military venture, but in 1958, the United States Government launched the National Aeronautics and Space Act to regulate all activities that pertain to space exploration.

The Beginning of Space Exploration

For centuries, scientists had been looking at the prospects of traveling into outer space. In the 1940s, experimental rocket launches into outer space were carried out time after time, but none could reach the desired altitudes. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union sent the first unmanned mission into space. They launched a satellite called Sputnik 1, which successfully remained in outer space for 3 months. On November 3, 1957, they subsequently launched another satellite known as the Sputnik 2, which carried a dog into orbit for 7 days. The Americans were envious of the success of the Russians, and the fact that there was a cold war between the two countries did not make things better. This led to the beginning of the &ldquospace race&rdquo.

The Space Race

The space race brought about a massive revolution in space exploration as each country tried to out-pace the other in the advancement of outer space technology and achievements. After the Soviet Union launched two successive satellites, the Americans were not to be outdone, and they launched their first successful satellite Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958. They followed this with the launch of Explorer 2 on March 5, 1958, which failed to reach orbit.

Man in Space

Space scientists were always looking for the possibility of sending human beings into outer space. After experimenting with animals, it was time for the first manned space mission. The first successful manned space mission was launched by Russia on April 12, 1961, carrying a young man known as Yuri Gagarin. The spacecraft was Vostok 1, and it orbited around the earth in 1 hour 48 minutes. One month later, the United States launched their first manned space mission with astronaut Alan Shepard, who managed to complete a suborbital flight. John Glen achieved his first orbital flight on February 20, 1962.

Neil Armstrong

With advancement in technology, it became easier and safer to launch manned missions. This led to an attempt to land on the moon, and it was achieved when Neil Armstrong and his crew in the Apollo 11 made a safe landing on the moon on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong proceeded to make the first moon walk. This great achievement catapulted America&rsquos reputation in the space race.

Space Tragedy

Not all space missions have been successful though. There were several tragedies involving space missions, and some of them had fatal results. On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 1, which was also known as Apollo/Saturn 204, caught fire during its simulation launch, killing all crew members. Russia&rsquos attempt to land on the moon ended in tragedy too when the Soyuz 1 encountered technical problems soon after its launch. The sole crew member perished as he could not repair the fault.

The Future of Space Exploration

Modern space exploration is reaching ares once only dreamed of. Mars is a main focal point of modern space exploration and a manned mars exploration is a long term goal of the United States. In addition, the concept of space tourism has opened up an opportunity for wealthy individuals to travel into outer space for leisure. The idea has yet to take off but construction of &ldquospaceports&rdquo has begun in areas around the world. Please explore the links below for more information.

Space Exploration - HISTORY

SEI Summary: A summary of the SEI program written by Steven Dick, the NASA Chief Historian.

President George H. W. Bush's Remarks on the 20th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing: This speech by George H.W. Bush was given on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum on October 4, 1989. The speech was the beginning of the Space Exploration Initiative

90 Day Review: The 90 day review of President H.W. Bush's SEI plan. See also the Executive Summary and Cost Summary.

America At The Threshold: America's Space Exploration Initiative: This is the Report of the Synthesis Group On America's Space Exploration Initiative, commonly known as the Stafford Report, published in May 1991.

Exploring the Moon and Mars: Choices for the Nation: This report by the Congressional Office of Technology and Assessment was published in July 1991.

Humans to Mars: Fifty Years of Mission Planning, 1950-2000: by David S.F. Portree is Monograph in Aerospace History, No. 21, 2001 (NASA SP-2001-4521). It is available in both high-res and low-res formats and is downloadable by chapter.

Link to Romance to Reality: Moon and Mars Mission Plans Website by the private, non-profit Mars Institute.

Information about the new Crew Exploration Vehicle and how NASA's Constellation program had planned to return to the moon.

Space exploration

Space exploration is the physical exploration of outer space, both by human spaceflights and by robotic spacecraft.

While the observation of objects in space&mdashknown as astronomy&mdashpre-dates reliable recorded history, it was the development of large liquid-fueled rocket engines during the early 20th century that allowed space exploration to become a practical possibility.

Common rationales for exploring space include advancing scientific research, uniting different nations and ensuring the future survival of humanity.

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 October 4, 1957, and the first Moon landing by the American Apollo 11 craft on July 20, 1969 are often taken as the boundaries for this initial period.

The Soviet Union achieved many of the first milestones, including putting the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1 in 1961, and completing the first spacewalk (by Aleksei Leonov in 1965).

In 1971, the Soviets launched the first space station, Salyut 1.

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.

From the 1990s onwards, private interests began promoting space tourism.

Larger government programs have advocated manned missions to the Moon and possibly Mars sometime after 2010.

Various criticisms of Space Exploration are sometimes made, on cost or safety grounds, but the people of many countries are nevertheless usually supportive of programs.

Disadvantages of Space Travel

  1. Space travel implies significant air pollution
  2. Particle pollution can be a problem
  3. Space exploration implies high levels of waste
  4. Space exploration is quite costly
  5. Many missions may not yield any results
  6. Space travel can be dangerous
  7. Space exploration is time-consuming
  8. Mental problems for astronauts
  9. Problems with radiation
  10. Space exploration may lead to a decisive advantage for few countries
  11. May not be in line with religious values
  12. Extraterrestrial life forms may wipe out humanity

Space travel implies significant air pollution

Apart from the many important advantages of space exploration, there are still some issues with space travel. For instance, one important problem with space exploration is that it implies significant air pollution. In fact, in order to launch a rocket, it takes large amounts of fossil fuels.

Moreover, also in the production process of rockets, significant amounts of fossil fuels have to be used. In turn, space travel implies significant air pollution and especially people who live close to those facilities may suffer quite a lot from fumes in the air.

Particle pollution can be a problem

Particle pollution is closely related to the air pollution problem. In fact, if large amounts of fossil fuels are burned, also large amounts of fine particles are emitted into our atmosphere.

In turn, people who live in those areas with significant particle pollution may suffer from several pulmonary issues like asthma or lung cancer.

Space exploration implies high levels of waste

Another downside of space exploration is that it also implies significant levels of waste. In fact, in the testing process of new rockets, plenty of waste is produced. Moreover, also on space missions, large amounts of waste are produced.

In fact, plenty of waste is circling around the earth in outer space and we have to be careful not to make space a gigantic garbage dump.

Space exploration is quite costly

Space missions also imply significant costs. In fact, it is quite expensive to explore space and depending on the lengths and the goal of the respective mission, many millions or even billions of dollars have to be used.

Opponents of space missions often claim that this money could be far better used for projects that would facilitate the energy transition process from fossil to renewable energy sources on our earth instead of wasting it for space travel.

Many missions may not yield any results

Another disadvantage of space travel is that those space missions also often do not deliver any results. In fact, all attempts to find extraterrestrial life have failed up to this point in time and there is little reason to believe that this might change in the near future.

Space travel can be dangerous

While space travel has become much safer over the past decades, it is still a rather risky project and the chances for accidents are still present. Hence, astronauts still have to enter a rocket with the knowledge that there will be the risk that they will never come back home from their missions.

Space exploration is time-consuming

Another issue with space exploration is that those missions are often quite time-consuming. Especially for longer missions, it can take several months or even years to complete those missions and therefore, space travel con be considered as a long-term project that will not deliver too many immediate results.

Mental problems for astronauts

Due to the overall high level of insecurity of space missions, astronauts also often suffer from mental problems. This is not only due to the fact that there will be a significant risk for those astronauts to never come back home, it is also due to the fact that astronauts often feel quite lonely in space.

Yes, there are other astronauts on space stations. Yet, this is not the same as being together with your family.

Problems with radiation

There is also still plenty of controversy when it comes to the true long-term health effects of space travel for astronauts. While some scientists claim that space travel does not lead to too many severe long-term health issues, other scientists claim that radiation is a serious problem in space travel and that the chances to suffer from cancer will be much higher for astronauts compared to the average person in our society.

Hence, there might also be a significant health risk for astronauts from those space missions.

Space exploration may lead to a decisive advantage for few countries

While space exploration can be extremely helpful for a few big countries, other countries may be greatly harmed by it. For instance, if a few big countries control space and extract resources, other countries will likely lose their competitiveness in the global market. In turn, this can also lead to higher wealth and income inequality across the planet.

May not be in line with religious values

Space missions may also conflict with religious values. In fact, many people who believe in god do not advocate space exploration at all since they feel that humans should stay on earth and should not explore outer space. Consequently, space missions may also be problematic from a religious point of view.

Extraterrestrial life forms may wipe out humanity

There is also no guarantee that extraterrestrial life forms will be peaceful. In fact, those life forms may have the potential power to wipe out humanity and therefore, exploring space may also not be a good idea in this regard.

How Space Exploration Has Evolved Over the Years

On October 4 1957, the Soviet Union made history when it lobbed a beach ball with four antennas stuck on it into low earth orbit. As far as scientific payloads are concerned, the 23-inch diameter sphere didn’t do much beyond transmitting a beeping sound that could be picked up by amateur radio enthusiasts. But Sputnik 1’s impact on the space race, American technological leadership, and the long-term trajectory of our own space exploration program can’t be overstated. In the 60 years since Sputnik 1 orbited our pale blue dot, we’ve pushed the envelope of what’s technologically possible in ways that the Soviets could scarcely have conceived of in 1957.

In this article, we’ll focus on unmanned exploration, for several key reasons. While the American and Soviet/Russian manned spaceflight programs have obviously advanced and accomplished great things, humanity’s manned exploration of the stars — or even the solar system — has remained largely stuck in idle since the Apollo 11 moon landing. The Space Shuttle was an ambitious technological leap over Apollo in some respects, but it never achieved its original launch frequency goal, and the Soviets killed their Shuttle competitor, Buran. Projects like Mir (Soviet / Russian) and the International Space Station have served as research platforms and testbeds for equipment, but neither headed out into the cosmos to explore the universe.

In contrast, the tremendous technological leap from Sputnik to, say, New Horizons has been enormous. The scientists of 1957 were no less ambitious in their mission goals than NASA or the ESA are today, but they had a fraction the resources and knowledge we now possess. A number of missions were killed by launchpad explosions or unexplained failures shortly after takeoff, and the probes that did successfully reach their targets often failed shortly afterwards. After several failed Mars shots, the Soviet Union refocused on Venus. Venera 1 (1961) failed mid-transit and Venera 3 (1965) lost communications before arrival, but Venera 5 (1969) used a strengthened design and returned data on the Venusian atmosphere for 53 minutes. Venera 7 (1970) became the first spacecraft to successfully land on a planet and return information to Earth.

Early probes often carried small payloads that allowed for crude, simplistic observations by our standards today, but scientists still prioritized beaming data back to Earth. Mariner 4, launched by the US towards Mars in 1964, carried a camera to relay images of the Martian surface. Power was typically provided by solar cells backed up by rechargeable zinc-acid batteries.

Mars, as viewed by Mariner 4.

The Wiki page for Mariner 4 is quite instructive and lists both the scientific payloads and the challenges NASA faced in trying to get the craft to Mars in the first place.

1970, both the Soviets and Americans had numerous failures — and a few tentpole successes — to crow about. The Soviet Mars 2 and Mars 3 missions would have deployed the first Martian rovers as early as 1971, but neither lander survived its journey to the surface intact. Meanwhile, NASA deployed its first probe that would eventually leave the solar system after our first visit to Jupiter — Pioneer 10. Pioneer 10 was the first major space mission to use a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) — a power source we still deploy to this day when solar cells and rechargeable batteries are not enough to provide a spacecraft’s power needs.

The Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 missions visited Jupiter and Saturn, returning valuable information about both planets and setting the stage for what scientists called the Planetary Grand Tour that would be carried out by Voyager 1 and 2. These probes, and the Jovian mission carried about by Galileo, expanded our understandings of the solar system and the moons of the gas and ice giants by fielding more advanced instruments, better cameras, and taking advantage of knowledge returned by their predecessors to precisely target areas of peak interest.

Fast forward to today. Vehicles like Curiosity have pioneered entirely new methods of aerobraking, to allow vehicles much too heavy to be stopped by the tenuous atmosphere on Mars to successfully land. The phrase “rocket-powered Sky Crane” is still one of my most-favorite descriptions of any piece of technology, ever. From Messenger’s mission to Mercury to Cassini’s Saturn survey and New Horizon’s exploration of Pluto, we’ve seen multiple generations of spacecraft push the limit on what’s possible, while conveying information about our most distant neighbors in the solar system with a depth and detail that was unfathomable 60 years ago.

Pluto, as imaged by New Horizons

Space is an unforgiving environment that doesn’t allow scientists to rely on the same technology that we use here on Earth — you can’t use a standard microprocessor for interplanetary explorations without cooking it in radiation. But as years have passed, we’ve still improved the performance of the computers we put in orbit around distant planets and celestial objects. Meanwhile, advances in everything from computer modeling to chaos theory have helped us tease more information from marginal signals or find new ways to rescue broken equipment. The failure of a second reaction wheel could have sunk Kepler’s mission once and for all, for example — until scientists discovered they could use photon pressure as a way to stabilize the spacecraft, while improving the algorithms we apply to its data here on Earth to allow the mission to continue.

Just last week, the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) satellite successfully launched to search an area of the sky 400x larger than what Kepler has focused on. The James Webb Space Telescope will allow us to explore periods of time we’ve never observed with a satellite with its capabilities before, and NASA’s InSight Mars lander is expected to launch in May and study details of the Martian subsurface and geology with plans that could inform our understanding of how the rocky planets in the Solar System initially formed.

Sixty-one years after an orbiting beach ball made history, we’ve no shortage of missions to fly and exploration to conduct.

Ten Events of Great Significance in Space Exploration during the Twenty-first Century’s First Decade

As the first decade of the twenty-first century comes to a close—I know that one could make the case that the first decade ended in 2009 but we had this argument during Y2K and I’m not going to rehash it here—what might we consider the ten most important events in space exploration and discovery? Everyone is free to come up with their own lists, but here is mine. These are in no particular order, at least it is not a countdown, and it is weighted toward recent acquisitions at the National Air and Space Museum. What would your list look like?

SpaceShipOne, June 21, 2004, September 29, 2004, and October 4, 2004

Launched from its White Knight mothership, the rocket-powered SpaceShipOne and its pilot ascended just beyond the atmosphere, arced through space (but not into orbit), then glided safely back to Earth. The three flights of SpaceShipOne represented the first times in which a privately-developed spacecraft reached space. The flights were part of the Ansari X-Prize competition to develop a robust and reliable piloted space vehicle that could offer space tourism to a broad set of participants. Based on this success, prospects for suborbital space tourism are expanding as successor vehicles are being built. SpaceShipOne is on display in the National Air and Space Museum’s “Milestones of Flight” exhibition.

Mars Exploration Rovers, 2004-Present

On January 3, 2004, the “Spirit” rover landed on Mars in Gusev crater, followed on January 25 by “Opportunity” reaching the Sinus Meridiani region, halfway around the planet from its twin. Since that time, both rovers have been operating on the Martian surface and returning stunning scientific findings that are restructuring our knowledge of the red planet. For one, we now know that Mars was once a watery world, and that water may yet be under its surface. This discovery has profound consequences for the possibilities of life having once been there. A mockup of the Mars Exploration Rover is on display in the National Air and Space Museum’s “Exploring the Planets” exhibition.

Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission, 1999-2006, extended mission, on-going

Stardust was the first U.S. space mission dedicated solely to returning extraterrestrial material from beyond the Moon. It collected samples from Comet Wild 2 and interstellar dust. Launched in 1999, it returned to Earth seven years later, parachuting to a landing in the Utah desert in 2006. The Stardust canister containing samples was sealed in an exterior shell that protected them from the heat of reentry. The material Stardust returned may date from the formation of the solar system. Scientific studies of the samples are altering our understanding of the universe. One major discovery is that ice-rich comets, the coldest and most distant bodies in the solar system, also contain fragments of materials. This return capsule is on display in the National Air and Space Museum’s “Milestones of Flight” exhibition.

After a 3 billion-mile journey to rendezvous with a comet, the Stardust return capsule joined the national collection of flight icons Oct. 1, 2008, the 50th anniversary of NASA. The capsule is displayed in Exploring the Planets at the Museum in Washington, DC.

Columbia Accident, 2003, and return to flight, 2005

The tragedy of STS-107 on February 1, 2003, cannot be overemphasized. It led to a stand down of the Space Shuttle program for more than two years, a hiatus on most construction for the International Space Station, and the decision to retire the shuttle by the end of the decade. The loss of the crew of seven, including international astronauts, was traumatic. The return to flight with STS-114 on July 26, 2005, brought a return to activity for the U.S. human spaceflight program, but the imminent retirement of the Space Shuttle opens questions about how the U.S. will undertake human activities in space. The Space Shuttle program is a major focus of the “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum.

Building of International Space Station (ISS), 1998-2009

With the first elements launched and joined in orbit in 1998, the building of ISS has consumed most of the human space missions of both the United States and Russia for the last decade. Since the occupation of the Expedition One crew to ISS—William M. (Bill) Shepherd, Yuri Pavlovich Gidzenko, and Sergei K. Krikalev—in 2001 there has been a crew of between two and six aboard the station throughout the decade. The ISS is a major focus of the “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum.

International Space Station (ISS) in August of 2001. Photographed from the Shuttle Orbiter Discovery (STS-105) after separating from the ISS. (Image courtesy NASA/MSFC)

Discovery of Extrasolar Planets, 1995-present

The first planet discovered around another star was announced on October 6, 1995, and since that time 358 extrasolar planets have been discovered. Although no Earth-like planets have been discovered yet, the prospects seem good for discovery in the next few years. Imagine the excitement of such a discovery? Information about cosmology, astronomy, and astrophysics is available in the National Air and Space Museum’s “Explore the Universe” exhibition.

Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) Shoemaker Mission, 1996-2001

NEAR Shoemaker was launched on February 17, 1996, journeyed to the Mathilde asteroid for a flyby, and then landed on the Asteroid 433 Eros on February 12, 2001, while transmitting 69 close-up images of the surface during its final descent. It was the first spacecraft mission specifically designed to study an asteroid. We would really like to collect NEAR Shoemaker for the National Air and Space Museum, but that will have to await a return to Asteroid 433 Eros with capability to return cargo. I probably won’t see this in my lifetime. There is more information on asteroids and their exploration in the National Air and Space Museum’s “Exploring the Planets” exhibition.

Chandra X-Ray Observatory, 1999-Present

Since its launch on July 23, 1999, the Chandra X-ray Observatory has engaged in X-ray astronomy of the universe, taking its place in the fleet of what NASA calls its “Great Observatories” program. Designed to observe X-rays from high-energy regions of the universe, such as the remnants of exploded stars and even particles up to the last second before they fall into a black hole, Chandra has greatly enhanced our understanding of the origin and evolution of the universe. There is a Chandra 1/5-scale model in the National Air and Space Museum’s “Explore the Universe” exhibition.

Hubble Servicing Missions, STS-109 (2002), STS-125 (2009)

The Hubble Space Telescope is acclaimed as one of the most significant astronomical instruments in history. First deployed in 1990, it has been serviced five times by astronauts visiting it aboard the Space Shuttle. These missions have extended its service life, and the most recent in 2009 appears to have extended its capabilities for the better part of the next decade. The structural dynamics test article for the Hubble Space Telescope is on display in the “Space Race” exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum. During that last servicing mission, NASA removed the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR) and it is on display in the National Air and Space Museum’s “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibition.

Hubble Test Telescope in “Space Race”

Shenzou V, 2003

Until 2003 only two nations had sent humans into space. On October 15-16, 2003, China joined Russia and United States in that exclusive club when taikonaut Yang Liwei completed 14 orbits of the Earth. The trip into space started when the Long March rocket carrying Yang in the Shenzhou V capsule blasted off from the Jiuquan launch center. The National Air and Space Museum looks forward to the prospect of displaying objects associated with the Chinese space program. I could have offered several other events for this list—the completion of the Milstar constellation, the advance of GPS into everyday life, the launch of Falcon 9 with its Dragon capsule, and the recognition of John Mather and George Smoot with the Nobel Prize for their elucidation of the Big Bang theory with data from the Cosmic Background Explore—all come to mind. I invite others to offer their own lists of significant space events in the first decade of the twenty-first century

Space History Photos

The history of space exploration is rich with photos from NASA that detail the history of space travel, breakthrough propulsion systems, groundbreaking astronauts and missions, and robotic exploration. Each weekday, looks back at the history of spaceflight, from the early days of the space race through the space shuttle era, from the years of the first rockets and satellites to the test-flight era that preceded human spaceflight, and of course beyond.

Space: The Only Real Frontier

Space, according to Star Trek, is the &lsquofinal frontier&rsquo. Given the above accounts of both human and planetary nature, it really is the only real frontier left.

In 1998, at the 44th Annual Meeting of the Florida Philosophical Association, Dr Roy Weatherford gave his Presidential Address, on the moral imperative of space travel. Weatherford argued that human lives are intrinsically valuable. This view, while controversial, is very widely held among philosophers. But Weatherford derived from this view a rather less commonly-held conclusion. He said that if human beings are intrinsically valuable, then the more of them there are the better. Therefore, he reasoned, if we are to truly stand by our commitment to the value of human life, then not only is it immoral to argue for birth control, but, contrary to the belief of most philosophers, it is immoral to not argue in favor of maximum reproduction. That is, assuming that human life is of intrinsic value, then we all have a moral duty to create, recreate, and procreate human life as often, and in as many places, as we can. Given the obvious environmental constraints that are inherent to Earth, Weatherford then argued for an increase in funding for and education about, space and space exploration, with a special emphasis on terraforming our Moon and Mars.

Though I don&rsquot share an immediate intuition that any and all human life is inherently or intrinsically valuable, the logic of his argument seems unassailable. If any and all human life is valuable for its own sake, then we have a duty to generate more of it, ie to reproduce, and we have this duty regardless of pollution, overcrowding and other environmental crises. Under such a moral imperative, humanity has no choice but to forge new frontiers for expansion. Space, with its nearly infinite possibilities for new places for human life to flourish, is the only real frontier left. This led Weatherford to conclude that it is humanity&rsquos number one global moral imperative to provide the educational and technological resources, as well as develop the overall mindset, for the advancement of space exploration and colonization.


Stellar cluster taken by Hubble Space Telescope.
(Courtesy of the Hubble Heritage Team)

NARA Resources
Finding Aids for NARA Records on Space Exploration

Guide to the Records of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Describes the records of NASA held by the National Archives.
Guide to the Records of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Astronautics Explains the types of records available on the House Committee on Science and Astronautics and its predecessor committees from 1958 to the present.
Guide to the Records of the U.S. Senate: Committee on Commerce and Related Committees Includes records of the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, 1958-1976.

Mars taken by Hubble Space Telescope.
(Courtesy of NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team)

Presidential Libraries

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Library And Museum: Space Sources

The Early History and Development of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Provides digital images of records related to the establishment and development of NASA.
Sputnik and the Space Race Provides digital images of records on Sputnik held at the Eisenhower Library, including press conferences, presidential addresses, and minutes to cabinet meetings.

John F. Kennedy Library & Museum: Space Sources

1962-09-12 Rice University "Video of the National Aeronautic Space Administration's (NASA) coverage of President John F. Kennedy's address at Rice University, Houston, Texas, concerning the nation's efforts in space exploration." Includes a transcript of the speech.
JFK in History: Space Program This is a multimedia web site that offers audio and transcriptions of President Kennedy’s important speeches about space exploration.
Media Gallery: Space A collection of photographs related to President Kennedy's interest in the space program.
Remarks in San Antonio, Texas at the Dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center, 21 November 1963 Given by Kennedy on the day before his assassination, this speech discusses the role of medicine and health research in space exploration. The page provides a link to audio of the speech.
Why Choose the Moon? Debating the Decision to Go to the Moon Lesson plan designed for grades 6-9.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum: Space Resources

Cooperation with the U.S.S.R. on Outer Space Matters, March 3, 1964 Memo from Johnson to the Administrator of NASA endorsing cooperation with the Soviet Union in space.
Oral History Project: Interview with James E. Webb, Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1961-1968 Recalls Webb’s tenure at NASA.
Remarks at the Signing of the Treaty on Outer Space Celebrates the treaty which prohibited installation of "implements of war" in space, and the use of space or any celestial body for military purposes.

Richard Nixon Library: Space Resources

FG 164 (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Information about documents related to NASA in the Nixon Presidential Library.

Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum: Space Resources

Picture of the Trifid Nebula taken by Gemini North 8-meter Telescope.
(Courtesy of the Gemini Observatory/GMOS Image)

Jimmy Carter Library and Museum: Space Resources

Civil and Further National Space Policy, October 10, 1978 This directive established national policies on space programs and activities in compliance with the National Space Policy.
A Coherent U.S. Space Policy, March 28, 1977 Directs the Policy Review Committee to develop an overall statement of national goals in space.
National Space Policy, May 11, 1978 Explains the national policies in regard to the conduct of space-related programs and activities.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: Space Resources

Address to the Nation on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger Text of the speech President Reagan delivered after the Challenger disaster.

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum: Space Resources

Beyond the Moon: NASA’s Continuing Mission Web page describing an exhibit which ran from September 19, 2008 to August 23, 2009 at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. Includes links to further information, such as songs used to awaken astronauts on space missions.
Remarks to the Crewmembers of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Winners of the Orbiter-Naming Competition Transcript of a speech made by President Bush on May 16, 1989.
Remarks to the Young Astronaut Council and a Teleconference with the Crew of Space Shuttle Discovery Drawn from the Public Papers of the President, this web page provides the transcript of a speech made by President Bush and a teleconference with shuttle astronauts on January 24, 1992.

William J. Clinton Presidential Library: Space Resources

Fact Sheet: National Space Policy, September 19, 1996 Details the goals and guidelines of the future of America’s space policy.
The Future Management and Use of the U.S. Space Launch Bases and Ranges This report examines the role of government agencies and the U.S. commercial space sector in the policy and management issues of space launches.
Joint Statement of the Space Station Partnership, December 6, 1993 Announces the invitation to Russia to join the international Partnership.
Remarks by the President and Colonel Eileen Collins at the Announcement of First Woman Shuttle Commander, March 5, 1998 Includes the text of the comments of the first woman shuttle commander, Col. Eileen Collins, and President Clinton.
Space Station, June 19, 1998 Staff paper prepared for the President’s Commission to Study Capital Budgeting, describes the investment needed for a space station.
Space Station Redesign, July 17, 1993 History of the redesign of the Space Station programs under President Clinton, includes the pertinent reports.
Statement on National Space Transportation Policy, August 5, 1994 Outlines a clear course for the nation’s space program, providing a coherent strategy for supporting and strengthening U.S. space launch capability.

Neptune taken by Voyager spacecraft.
(Courtesy of NASA, JPL, and CALTech)

General Space Exploration Resources

Apollo to the Moon Extensive site by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, covers the history of spaceflight.
Astronaut Fact Book Gives information on astronaut candidate selection and astronaut alma maters lists former and current astronauts.
A Brief History of Animals in Space Information about the use of animals to test the effect of space flight on living organisms.
Congressional Research Service Reports on Space Policy A selection of CRS Reports complied by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
Encyclopedia Astronautica Entries on all things space-related.
Johnson Space Center (JSC) Digital Image Collection Image database of NASA’s flights.

Jupiter’s red spot taken by Voyager spacecraft.
(Courtesy of NASA, JPL, and CALTech)

Legislative Origins of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 1958 Chronicles the history of the act creating NASA, includes oral histories of those who were instrumental in its creation.
NASA Human Spaceflight Contains extensive information about the various space programs, including the shuttles and the space station, plus a look behind the scenes of manned space missions.
NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) "Provides access to aerospace-related citations, full-text online documents, and images and videos." Can be browsed or searched.
NASA Multimedia This web site provides access to NASA's image galleries, video, TV, interactive features, podcasts, and 3D resources.
National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 Public Law #85-568, 72 Stat. 426, establishes NASA and is designed to "provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere."
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Official site, full of historical and up-to-date information on the space program.
SkyView Provided by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, "SkyView is a Virtual Observatory on the Net generating images of any part of the sky." Includes images, a blog, and a non-astronomers page.
Solar System NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory site, gives information about and images from NASA’s unmanned spacecraft. Includes links to missions exploring objects in the solar system.
Space Exploration Timeline Documents achievements in space since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957.
Space Station Based on the PBS program, examines the financial, technical and political challenges of creating the International Space Station through questions, interactive activities, and images.
Space Today Online Covers general space topics, including current events, history, and lesson plans.
StarDate Maintained by the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, offers tips for stargazers, astronomy education, and lesson plans.
Views of the Solar System Photos and scientific information, including history of space exploration, rocketry, early astronauts, space missions, spacecraft through the use of text, graphics, images, and videos.
Windows to the Universe Features interactive resources on Earth and space sciences graphics intensive site.

Fireworks at star formation taken by Hubble Space Telescope.
(Courtesy of NASA and the Hubble Heritage Team)

This page was last reviewed on May 16, 2018.
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