…5, 4, 3, 2, 1 & lift off! This can be often heard when a rocket is launched. Since the launch of Sputnik 1 by Soviet Union in 4 October 1957, we’ve been launching various instruments & humans to space. Each launch holds a new hope of exploration in our minds.

Space exploration started with the launch of Sputnik 1 by Soviet Union in 4 October 1957. After that United States landed first man on Moon by Apollo 11 craft on July 20, 1969. The Soviet space program achieved many of the first milestones, including the first living being in orbit in 1957, the first human spaceflight (Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1) in 1961, the first spacewalk (by Aleksei Leonov) in 1965, the first automatic landing on another celestial body in 1966, and the launch of the first space station (Salyut 1) in 1971. 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 (ISS). In the 2000s, the People’s Republic of China initiated a successful manned spaceflight program. European Union, Japan, India have been planning for human spaceflight. Today, the private space companies like Space X, Virgin Galactic are playing a key role in space exploration which is a great leap toward private space exploration. For many decades, NASA has been dominating the space industry with both robotic & human space exploration. The next target of space industry is to send humans to Mars.

The launches of various instruments to space have been significantly affecting our ways of life & the ways we compare ourselves in the vastness of cosmos. Since the launch of first spacecraft to space, we’ve been continuously sending both unmanned & manned missions. Though NASA has been dominating the space sector for decades; various government organizations like ESA, ISRO, JAXA, Roscosmos, CSA have been contributing significantly in our understanding of space. Almost every month, we hear in news that a spacecraft has been launched. Space exploration gained much popularity since last 1-2 decades. Even, private agencies like Space X, Virgin Galactic are contributing to space exploration. Countries are investing more & more in the field. A typical space mission costs about a billion or more. That’s why sometimes it run out of funding & some not so important missions have to be cancelled. But it doesn’t add to the worry as the best missions are restored. Though the budget is very high for any space mission, government leaves no chance of any complaint. It always encourages missions. Every year, government put a significant percent of its budget to space science. In fact, the public also provide full support. The supports of public in the restoration of space missions can be seen in the recent restoration of James Webb Space Telescope at the budget of 8 billion dollars. Due to high budget needed for its construction, government was on the way to cancel it. But due to both the interest of scientific community & the huge support of public, the successor of Hubble, had to be restored. According to an Associated Press Poll conducted in July 2003, 71% of U.S. citizens agreed with the statement that the space program is “a good investment”, compared to 21% who did not. Thus, in every way, space exploration has been a matter of great achievements both for the scientific community & the general public. But the investments in space raise a question – Why are we spending billions of dollars in space?

Though investments in space science increase our knowledge of the unknown universe or of the place where we live in, it’s a matter of question why we are spending so much money just for our knowledge. When a space mission is about to be cancelled, not only scientific community, but every general person tries his or her best to say that it’s better to put some of the budget in space science from other sectors so that the particular mission can be saved. It’s quite clear that everyone finds something special in space science. A launch of a spacecraft always draws thousands of people. It gives people a form of excitement, achievement, pride. It boosts one’s concept of the unknown world. Almost every child dreams of becoming an astronaut in future. Space fascinates children too. It encourages them to imagine a world that is boundless. Mystic night sky always draw everyone (no matter children or youth or middle-aged or old) towards it. Even poets are also attracted toward its indescribable beauty & had written, is writing & will write melodious poems to describe its beauty. Famous nursery poem – Twinkle, twinkle little stars – describe a child’s conversation with the twinkling little stars. It describes the wonders of the child by watching the mystic night sky. Science fiction writers & movie-makers also popularize space science through adventurous stories & movies of space. Thus, we all are significantly affected by space. We all are victims of space mania!!!!

To be continued in Part II…

 Copyright©2012 Sandeep Deba Misra