On July 20th, 1969, 50 years ago, a team of astronauts led by Commander Neil Armstrong made history by landing on the surface of the Moon, three days after they launched from Earth, having covered 380,000 kilometres of spaceflight. The next 50 years should see a better understanding of what is achievable, new technology that enables better, eco-friendlier spaceflights, and perhaps a plan in place to send humans to Mars.
Past, Present & Future
On July 20th, 1969, 50 years ago, a team of astronauts led by Commander Neil Armstrong made history by landing on the surface of the Moon. This was merely 55 years after the first commercial flight flew between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. The Apollo 11 mission was the culmination of the Space Race, and lasting just over eight days, it represents the challenges and opportunities of spaceflight. The question now is, what will come in the next 50 years?
An Unsettling Ending to WWII
The Second World War is regarded as one of the bloodiest and destructive moments in world history, with over 70 million deaths worldwide. It encompassed battles around the world, namely in Europe, the Pacific and South-East Asia. The conflict lasted six years, which ended with the Japanese Empire surrendering in 1945. A bounty of military and scientific developments came from the war, tainted with the blood of the millions it affected. Despite that peace was signed globally, the end of the war left many leaders uncertain of the future.
Quickly global leaders joined teams; global alliances forged from similar political interests, and perhaps also because of fear; fear of the consequences of choosing the ‘other team’. The ambiguously named “Cold War” consisted of small, and seemingly insignificant pushes to world supremacy by rival political parties. Referred to by the term brinkmanship, it describes the push of a potentially dangerous issue or event, such as an act of war, with the intention of escalating a conflict to the point just before it passes a threshold of acceptance by the international community and before escalating the conflict into full blown-out war. This practice, still used today yet perhaps less obvious, aims to test the political maturity of the opposing party, and dangerously attempts to influence actions of retaliation. This tone was kept for nearly 50 years after the end of WWII and played a significant role in how technology was built and applied for reasons to ‘one-up’ the other party.
The Origins of the Space Race
The power and destruction of nuclear bombs and potentially deadly long-distance nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles saw global leaders wanting to protect their nations from such attacks. Rockets had been an interest to both sides long before WWII, but only during the Cold War were these efforts materialised into government-supported projects. By the late 1950s, both the United States of America and the USSR successfully launched satellites into orbit in quick succession of each other. Only a few years later, the USSR launched their first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit. A few months after that, Alan Shepard, from the USA side was launched into space. Although he did not achieve orbit like his USSR counterpart, this mission was the preparation for more manned spaceflights. This was likely the consequence, and success, of the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (more commonly known as NASA) in 1958.