Background information Initial space programmes The manned space flights Preceding the moon Missions to the moon Human beings on the moon Space stations Space probes Reusable space vehicles
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For millennia, humans have dreamt about exploring space and visiting the moon but it wasn’t until the last 50 years did such dreams became reality. The prerequisite for the development of space exploration lay with the development of rockets and gun powder which the Russian physicist, Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky suggested could be used to power space vehicles on interplanetary flight (19th century). Prior to Word War one; American Robert Goddard improved the rocket design which was adopted by the United States Military as a successful means to penetrate enemy armour. Wold war two Germany developed the guided missile; the V2 which became the direct ancestor to the modern ICBMs, cruise missiles and guided rocket bombs. After world war two and during the cold war, the United States and the former USSR started conducting research on the viability of space flight and the process of sending humans into space; now what was once a fantasy became reality.
Initial space programmes:
The epoch of practical space exploration commenced in 1957 when the USSR launched the first artificial satellite; Sputnik 1. Its function was to study the Earth’s atmosphere, cosmic rays, meteors and to send back radio signals. Sputnik1 disintegrated in the earth’s atmosphere 57 days after the launch. In November of the same year, Sputnik 2 was launched, this time carrying a dog named ‘Laika,?carrying out biomedical experiments in space. 162 days it also fell back to earth. While Sputnik 2 was still in orbit, the United States launched their first earth satellite named Explorer 1 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Its primary functions consisted of the measurements of cosmic rays and micrometeoroids for 112 days and also gave data that consequently led to the discovery of the Van Allen belts around the earth.
On march 1958 the United States launched its second satellite; Vanguard 2 which showed that the earth is pear shaped due to slight variations in its orbit followed closely by the U.S. launch of Explorer 3 and the Soviet Sputnik 3 which measured solar radiation, cosmic rays, magnetic fields, and other space phenomena until falling back to the earth in 1960.
The manned space flights:
With the coming of unmanned space flight, inevitably will there will be manned space flight. It was of such importance that the area of people going to space became an arena of intense national competition between the U.S.A and the USSR from the time of the first satellite launch in 1961 until some 30 years later, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After the launch of Sputnik 2 1957 containing the dog Laika, United States leaders suspected that the Soviets were preparing to launch a piloted spacecraft so the United States established its Mercury program in 1958. This spurred the Soviets into accelerating their plans for sending humans into space. The Soviet Vostok design was essentially a modified version of a spy satellite; the goals of this which were mostly political, though still having aims to prove that humans could survive life in space.
In the April of 1961, Soviet spacecraft; Vostok 1 lifted off the launch pad carrying one human crew whose name was Yuri Gagarin; the first man in space. The total flight consisted of orbiting the earth once over a 108 minute period and landing back into Siberia. This was a hugely monumental achievement by the USSR in that it showed the rest of the world the edge that they had in the area of space travel. Not long after the Soviets had preformed this feat, the United States launched their first person in space with the Freedom 7 spacecraft containing one crew; Alan B. Shepard Jr who preformed launch, recovery and system tests during the 15 minutes of his suborbital flight. In the consequent years (1962-3) the United States sent two more spacecraft to space; Friendship 7 and Faith 7 which consequently ended the mercury program and initiated the Gemini program. The Soviets however, sent another four Vostok types preforming a variety of experiments such as spacecraft rendezvous testing, orbiting the earth for long periods of time, manoeuvring the capsules within close vicinity of one another and sending the first woman into space (Valentina V. Tereshkova) which marked the end of the Vostok program and the start of the Voskhod program which was simply an adaptation of the Vostok spacecraft to accommodate two or three cosmonauts. All in all, ten manned Gemini missions were conducted and consisted of rendezvous, spacewalking (EVA) and docking tests were made, in preparation for the Apollo program thus ultimately landing on the moon. A single Soviet Voskhod mission was conducted where Aleksei A. Leonov becomes the first man to preform extravehicular (EVA) activity in space; spacewalking.
On the 15th of October 2003, the Chinese; Shen-zhou 5 lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch centre carrying one crew, whose name was Yang Li-Wei (28 years old) who was trained in Russia’s Star City prior to the launch. Nearly 50 years after the launch of the first Soviet and United States manned spacecraft; the People’s Republic of China becomes the third ever country to independently develop and send a manned spacecraft into space thus writing it’s name into the history books.
The next step in manned space flight-preceding the moon:
During the late 1960s, America and the USSR started to develop the Apollo and Soyuz programmes. Apollo’s mission was to eventually land on the moon whilst Soyuz’s mission was to further the Soviet advance into space. In 1967 both space faring nations suffered tragedies and setbacks. During a ground test on the 27th of January in Cape Kennedy, the command module of the Apollo spacecraft caught on fire and due to the pure-oxygen atmosphere inside in the module, the fire engulfed and killed the three astronauts inside. This prompted a major review into the Apollo spaceship design and delayed the programme for more than a year. In the following April, USSR launched its new ship; the Soyuz. It had room for three cosmonauts and a working compartment for experiments. Following re-entry into the atmosphere and the deployment of the landing parachutes, the lines became tangled and the single cosmonaut inside plunged to his death. The Soviet space programme was set back by nearly two years.
In the October of 1968, the first manned Apollo flight was launched by a Saturn 1B rocket. The mission consisted of orbiting Earth 163 times, checking spacecraft performance, photographing the Earth and transmitting television pictures. Two months later in December, Apollo 8 was launched which orbited the moon ten times, returning safely back to Earth. The Apollo 9 flight tested undocking, docking and rendezvous of the lunar module landing craft during the 151 orbit mission. Apollo 10 made 31 orbits around the moon and preformed extensive manoeuvrers with the spacecraft, in preparation for landing on the moon. The Apollo project was now ready to land on the moon.
Meanwhile, the USSR carried out numerous spacecraft (Soyuz) docking and rendezvous operations as well as experimenting with inter-spacecraft interaction procedures for example the transferral of cosmonauts between spacecraft via the use of spacesuits and living for prolonged periods of time in space.
Missions to the moon:
For thousands of years humans have seen the moon as an object of mystery, fantasy and inspiration thus many myths and stories were dedicated to it. It is Earth’s closest cosmic neighbour so naturally, the next step in human space exploration. As early as 1959 the Soviet Union began sending probes and orbiters to the moon in order to study more about it, albeit failures by both the USA and itself during the previous year. In September 12, 1959 the Soviet Luna 2 was launched and hit the moon 36 hours later. Since then, numerous moon shots have been conducted by both countries, with varying results. The first photographs of the far side of the Moon were taken by Luna 3 but one of the most significantly successful missions was the one made by the American Ranger 7 which was launched by the United States in the June of 1964. Immediately preceding impact with the lunar surface, it transmitted 4,316 television pictures of the surface from an altitude of 1800 to 300m, giving humans their first close up view of the moon.
On January 31, 1966 the USSR launched Luna 9 which made the first landing on the moon (without being destroyed) and transmitted back to Earth the photographs of the lunar surface. The American lunar program’s major interest of the moon shots, aside from the scientific information that was gathered, was ultimately to land a person on the moon. In order to do so, a number of unmanned moon flights were undertaken along with several landings on the moon to send back data in the form of pictures and soil samples by the Landers Surveyor 3 and 5. In the consequent years of 1966 and 1967 a total of five lunar Orbiters orbited the Moon, relaying thousands of photographs to Earth in order to chose the landing sites for the Apollo moon landing program. In 1970 and 1973 the USSR sent two rovers to the moon named Lunar 17 and Lunar 21 which consisted of solar panels for power generation, cameras and soil samplers. After a lapse in lunar exploration following the manned landings, the United States returned to the moon in 1994 with the spacecraft Clementine which mapped the lunar surface in great detail returning nearly a million images in 11 visible and near infrared wavelengths over a 4 month period.
Human beings on the moon:
In 1969, humankind achieved the historic feat of landing on the Moon. On the 16th of July, the moon bound Apollo 11 was launched the crew of which encompassed Colonel Edwin E. Aldrin Jr of the air force, Niel A. Armstrong who was a naval veteran and Lieutenant Colonel Micheal Collins of the air force. Four days later on the 20th, the LM (Lunar Module) descended to the surface of the moon landing at the edge of Mare Tranquillitatis containing Aldrin and Armstrong whilst Collins remained in the CSM (Command and Service Module) orbiting the moon. A few hours later Armstrong who was clad in a bulking white spacesuit stepped out of the ladder and said the historic words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.? Armstrong and Aldrin spent more than two hours walking on the surface, gathering 21kg of soil samples, took photographs, set up a solar wind experiment, a laser bean reflector, a seismic experiment package and erected an American flag and talked by satellite communication to American President Richard Nixon in the white house. Also via satellite, millions of people watched this significant event live. After returning to the lunar module and discarding their suits, the astronauts rested for a few hours before take off. Docking with the CSM the astronauts then proceeded to return to earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii and was recovered. Subsequently, another 6 Apollo missions followed, one of which disaster struck. In the April of 1970, Apollo 13 was launched. During the flight to the moon one of the oxygen tanks ruptured and the astronauts were forced to abandon their plan to land on the surface, instead using the power and systems of the LM they swung behind the moon and were brought back to Earth, splashing down in the Sea. During the later missions, more and more of the moon was explored, lunar rovers were even brought from earth so as to aid in the exploration process to craters, valleys and hills. Much rock samples were collected and taken back to Earth for analysis.
Space stations are, as its name suggests, a habitable enclosure for spending prolonged periods of time in space whether for scientific experiments, engineering in weightlessness and for other various purposes. The first space station launched was by the Soviet Union called the Salyut 1 in the April of 1971. The first crew of Salyut died when their return craft, Soyuz depressurised. The first American space station was Skylab, essentially a converted top of a Saturn 5 rocket was manned by three crew members who spent 28, 59 and 84 days aboard the space station. In total, the Soviet Union launched seven space stations. An improved space station design, the Mir was launched in February 1986. Initially the same size as Salyut but was expanded with extra compartments which were attached in subsequent launches. Crew members visited Mir for long stays to assess the effects of weightlessness on humans sometimes for a year at a time and for shorter stays which included astronauts from many nations. As a sign of greater friendship between Russia and the United States, Space Shuttles began to visit the Mir in 1995. In order to prevent the space shuttle from crashing, the shuttles had to reduce speed to 0.1 kmph as they docked. The last Mir crew returned to Earth in 1999 and in 2001 the station was directed into the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean where it burned upon re-entry due to the fact that the Russian government could no longer afford to fund the station, instead, resources were directed to the development of the International Space Station. Throughout its 13 years of operation (it was only meant to operate for 5) the Mir orbited the Earth about 77 000 times, hosted more than 100 cosmonauts and gained notoriety with some 1600 breakdowns, many of which were serious.
A European built space station called Spacelab was designed to be fitted into the cargo bay of the US Space shuttle, remaining there for the remainder of the mission conducting experiments and making astronomical observations. The last spacelab mission flew in 1998.
The International space station is a project that is being developed by the United States, the European Space agency, Canada and Japan. Assembly of the ISS began in 1998 with the launch of the first module, the Zarya by Russia, followed by the Unity launched by the United States. The first long crew stays were from November 2000 until March 2001. The assembly is expected to be completed in 2004 with a total of 45 launches.
In the future, living in space stations may become more and more like living on Earth in that space stations may be spun in order to create artificial gravity thus avoiding the weakening of bones and muscles that result from prolonged exposure to weightlessness.
Over the years many probes have been launched by humans to explore where we could not yet go. Probes have been sent to places such as the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, the Sun as well as to meteors and comets. With this technology, humans can have a greater understanding of our solar system and the space beyond. Among these numerous space craft some probes merely flew passed the planets; taking photos perhaps even sampling the atmosphere and mapping it thus studying the geological landscape. Other probes took things another step further in that they actually landed/crash landed onto the planet/moon’s surface and scrutinised the surrounds in detail; taking samples of the soil, photographing the environment and analysed the terrain/atmosphere.
Some famous ‘flyby?surveillance probes:
Oct. 4, 1959
Travelled to the moon’s far side, taking pictures.
Jul. 28, 1964
First probe to make a successful fly by of Venus
May 30, 1971
First probe to orbit Mars, mapping the planet
Mar. 10, 1972
First deep space probes; flew past Jupiter
Nov. 3, 1973
Sung past Venus before making three flybys of Mercury
Dec. 10, 1974
First probe to fly close to the Sun
Travelled through Jupiter and Saturn, passing through Uranus and Neptune and then leaving the Solar System to become the first (with voyager 1) to do so.
Flew past Venus, dropping Landers then flew to intercept Halley’s comet.
Feb. 17 1996
First dedicated mission to the Asteroids, scheduled to intercept asteroids Mathlide and Eros
Some famous ‘landing?probes:
Sept. 12, 1959
First probe to (hard) land on the Moon.
Jun. 12, 1967
First probe to descend (by parachute) through the atmosphere of Venus, sending back information.
Nov. 10, 1970
Landed a remotely operated ‘rover?vehicle on the Moon called Lunokhod 1.
Aug., Sept. 1975
Entered Martian atmosphere, landed on the surface and dropped Landers which transmitted pictures, acted as weather and scientific stations and sampled the Martian soil.
Oct. 17, 1989
Obiter entered the Jupiter system in ?5 and sent a probe into the atmosphere of Jupiter.
Nov. 7, 1996
Nov. 7 1996
A mission to Mars which the ‘Mars pathfinder landed on the surface in July ?7. The ‘Sojourner? rover rolled off and began exploration on the 5th of July.
Reusable space vehicles; now and the future:
Having to construct a launch vehicle every time that NASA planned to go to space proved to be very time consuming and costly. What it wanted now was a spacecraft that could be reusable and could land conventionally; like a plane landing on a runway. Thus, the space shuttle was devised, first flown on the 12th of April, 1981. The space shuttle itself is a huge delta winged construction covered with heat resistant ceramic insulation tiles covering the underside so as to provide protection in the 1430oC heat, when re-entering the atmosphere. It lasts for approximately 100 missions with only minor adjustments that need to be made in-between flights. As well as having engines itself, it also carries 2 additional booster rockets which helps to propel it to many times to speed of sound in order to escape the gravitational pull of the Earth. Another fuel tank is strapped on which contains liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that feeds to the main engines so there is a total of three sources of thrust operating at lift-off. After a while the two boosters fall back to Earth (their parachutes are deployed and the booster are recovered and used again, for another mission) and the only the main engine is firing. At a higher altitude the fuel tank detaches and falls back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere. When in space what fuel that is left is used to manoeuvrer the Space Shuttle into orbit or to position it to dock and interact with other space craft. During the eight minute run of the engines, they drink 700 tonnes of fuel and produce enough power to light the state of New York. The cargo bay of the space shuttle may carry satellites, equipment for repairing other satellites or a space laboratory for research in weightless situations. A space shuttle has around 2000 controls, 100 times for than that of an average car. Prior to the flight, space shuttle crewmembers have to train for around 11 months before going on the mission, 11 weeks before the launch, mission specific training is given where crew spend about 300 hours in simulators.
Russia USSR also made its own version of the space shuttle, however it is unmanned and design to be remotely controlled. Called the Buran Space Shuttle or also known as the ‘Vozdushno Kosmucheskjy Korab?(VKK) it was first flown on November 15, 1988 using the Energia launcher, one of the world’s most powerful, to propel it into space. The first variant only manages to undertake one flight but newer versions can make as many as 25 flights.
Following the disastrous explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger shortly after launch on the 28th of January 1986, NASA suspended its Space Shuttle operations until 1988. Again in 2003, a Space Shuttle (Columbia) exploded whilst re-entering the atmosphere. Due to these factors and that the Space Shuttle fleet is ever aging, many proposals of replacements of the Space Shuttle has been made, including the X-30 which is designed to take off from a conventional runway and to boost itself into orbit using it’s powerful ramjet engines. However, due to replace the Shuttle in the 1990s but facing budgetary constraints, the project was delayed.
In the April of 2003, the ‘Tier One?was unveiled by a private company, the goal of which is to win the ‘X prize?$10 million for the first three person craft to fly above 100km twice in a two week period. The ‘Tier One?craft consists of the jet-powered ‘White knight?carrier airplane, carrying an egg shaped ‘ShaceShipOne?rocket plane. At 50 000 feet the rocket plane is detached, burning rubber based fuel and nitrous oxide thus propelling it to a height of 60 miles. The craft then falls back down to fly like a normal aeroplane again at 80 000 feet, finally landing on a runway. This is if everything goes to plan. At present, glitches and functions will be tweaked and the equipment retested in order for Burt Rutan, the creator of this space craft, to one day achieve this goal.