Our history is a collection of great happenings.
We can all have an impact on its direction. Even the smallest of our choices can impact humanity's destiny. Understanding the past helps us predict the future.
The first satellite was sent into orbit on October 4th, 1957, by the R-7 rocket, launched from the Baikonur facility. September 12th, 1962, Houston. Speech by President Kennedy. The United States joined the race to the Moon.
After a three-day space voyage, Neil Armstrong made the first human landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969. These three occasions are crucial to humanity's advancement into a new era and the conquest of space.
RACE TO THE MOON
From the dawn of time, man has been fascinated by the celestial phenomenon. Why is it a day, and why is it night? Why do hot months follow cold months? Is that star crossing the sky a message from the gods, like storms and lightning? Is that Sun that's disappearing, eaten by the Moon, a sign of the end of the world?
For a prehistoric person, a star-studded sky must have been magnificent and enigmatic. However, by observing it for long hours, he must have noted that certain stars were moving and others were not. A few rare monuments remain from that distant period, such as the monoliths of Stonehenge. Today we often attribute to them the role of astronomical observatories.
In Mesopotamia, the first millennium before our era, observation of the sky became a real institution. Everything is scrupulously noted and preserved. Some astronomers are even given the nightly task of counting the different stars that make up the heavenly vault. A map of the sky is gradually drawn up to locate oneself in the immensity of the stars. The stars are grouped in constellations. For a long time, the North Star has been the main guide for ships sailing at night.
During the time of Ancient Greece, they begin to think that perhaps the Earth is not flat but round. Astronomy no longer serves only to predict the seasons but also to understand our world.
In the 16th century, Copernicus proposed the idea that the Earth turns around the Sun. In the next century, Galileo proved it. We are no longer the center of the world.
In 1887, like the Mesopotamians of previous millennia, we mapped the sky, but this time with the aid of thousands of photographs. And then, the first large telescopes appeared and pushed back the limits of the human eye. Humanity delves ever deeper into the Universe.
Assume, we can control time, analyze and compare billions of events and alter them to rewrite history endlessly.
For example, let's try to condense the 200,000 years of the known history of humanity into one day of 24 hours. We know little about the first 23 hours. However, at the end of this period, humanity gathered together in villages and then in cities. At 11:20 PM, man discovered writing. Christianity was born only a quarter of an hour ago. One minute and 40 seconds ago, the steam engine is invented. Twenty seconds later, it was the turn of electricity, then the telephone and then the airplane. Nuclear energy just 34 seconds ago, computers 24, the internet, less than 10.
This very second we are creating the inventions of tomorrow. Who knows how far we will go when we look at the distance covered? What will our next great breakthroughs be?
The idea of traveling into space, reaching the Moon or any other planet, is very old. But how do you get there? Jules Verne imagined a huge cannon. H.G. Wells, a material that canceled out the effects of gravity. The solution will be a different one.
1942, in the middle of the Second World War, German scientists develop a new weapon, the V-2. V-2s are independent missiles that carry their explosive load for hundreds of miles. They are weapons of war. They are considered to be the precursors of modern rockets.
At the end of the war, when Germany was invaded by the Allies, the United States and the USSR intended to take full advantage of German technology. A desperate race begins to recover the maximum possible of material, blueprints and engineers. The United States emerged as the major winner and transferred its precious loot to American soil. The Soviet Union, therefore, starts with a serious delay, but its motivation is strong. The objective, build an improved version of the German V-2 and fit it with a nuclear warhead. At this stage, the aims are largely military. Very quickly, the two superpowers enter into a technological race. The first to possess an intercontinental missile fitted with a nuclear payload will dominate the other.
The man mainly responsible for the Soviet rocket program is Sergei Korolev. His mission is to build the most powerful tactical missile ever invented, but his deep motivation is slightly different. Korolev wants to send people into space. 1957. The R-7 Semyorka rocket is operational. It will become the USSR's spearhead in the conquest of space.
October 4th, 1957, at the end of the evening, it lifts off over Baikonur, the Soviet Cosmodrome. Onboard is the very first satellite in history, Sputnik 1. At first, leaders in Moscow failed to appreciate the extent of their success. After all, the launch's purpose was to test the rocket. Nobody had anticipated the international repercussions, and yet they are massive. The Americans are appalled.
In the world's eyes, they are no longer the first technological power; they are only second. On November 3rd, the Soviets sent a dog named Laika into orbit above Sputnik 2. It's the first living animal sent into space. The Americans are falling further behind.
BIRTH OF NASA
In response to the Soviet program, they create their space agency, NASA. The race to space is on!
In aeronautics, a rocket is a vehicle that moves in space by using a special motor. Its mission is to carry a useful load into space, which means more than 60 miles from the surface of the Earth. To break free from Earth's gravity, it needs to reach the speed of five miles per second. Faster than a bullet from a pistol. So it needs extremely powerful engines. Each American Saturn 5 rocket engine produces the equivalent of 160 million horsepower. The engines of a rocket work on the principle of action and reaction.
For example, when a cannon fires a cannonball, the reaction recoils slightly. The rocket relies on the same process. The engines burn a huge quantity of fuel, unleashing a massive vertical thrust, but there's no air in space, so that nothing can burn. So a rocket has to carry its oxygen with it. This is the combustion. Consisting of several stages, it separates as it climbs. The stages then drop back to Earth. All these operations are risky. There can be no failure. Otherwise, there's an explosion, like the Challenger Shuttle in 1986.
Proton, the Russian launcher, is the rocket that beats all records for the number of launches, but even that has had 47 failures of the 410 liftoffs to date. Setting out to conquer space is not easy.
YURI GAGARIN: THE FIRST MAN IN SPACE
April 12th, 1961. Baikonur Cosmodrome. Atop the giant R-7 rocket, Yuri Gagarin has just taken his place in the Vostok vessel. A few days before, the authorities informed him that he was selected to be the first man in space. It's a huge honor and a great danger. The R-7 launcher's reliability record is just 50%.
Yuri is the father of two daughters, one only a few days old. He wrote a letter to his family that would only be sent if an accident occurred. In the control room, Korolev hasn't slept a wink. He knows the risks.
At 6:07 AM, the four propulsion units of the major engine fire up simultaneously, and their power is formidable. Gagarin's pulse leaps. Over the radio, he announces, "Here we go." In the capsule, everything is shaking. Yuri Gagarin is slammed into his seat by the acceleration. Over the radio, Korolev asks him if he's okay. He replies, "I'm okay; how about you?"
After 60 seconds, the first stage uses its fuel and separates.
At 6:12 AM, the second stage is also ditched, and Vostok goes on its way. Ten minutes after liftoff, reaching the end of its fuel load, the vessel enters terrestrial orbit.
For the first time in the history of humanity, a man is in space. For the United States, the blow is terrible. So, President Kennedy made a decision that would go down in history.
On May 25th, 1961, speaking to Congress, he promised to send a man to the Moon. On October 12th, 1962, in Houston, he delivers a speech that is now famous. Speaking to 35,000 people, he recalls the progress made since the dawn of humanity, the dangers faced, and the difficulties overcome. For him, humanity can only progress if it sets itself fresh challenges. To tumultuous applause, Kennedy announces -- "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
This speech, backed up by a major financial input, launches NASA towards the Moon.
THE TURNING POINT
We have just reached a turning point. A turning point is a key event. A crossroads in our history where the world swings one way or the other. What would have happened if President Kennedy had not taken that decision? Since 1959, the Soviets have conducted their own Moon, the Luna Program. In 1966, three years before the Americans' first step on the Moon, the Soviet probe Luna 9 made a soft landing on the Moon's surface.
If the Americans hadn't gone to the Moon, the Soviets certainly would have done so. It was just a question of time. The red flag would be flying on the Moon. Kennedy's choice was determining and audacious but not surprising. Sooner or later, the United States will have to be present in space, so they may as well be the first. At its outset, aviation was also a story of pioneers.
Individual people do crazy experiments and fly like birds. The first steps were not great, no more than gliding a few yards. Then gradually, the military and industry took an interest. The First World War saw the arrival of the first fighter planes. Necessity drove countries into a race for innovation. Today, there are some 80,000 commercial flights daily. Taking a plane is no longer an extraordinary thing to do.
FIRST MAN TO STEP ON MOON
On July 20, 1969, the world was watching TV. Broadcast by 36 channels, followed by 600 million viewers, man's first steps on the Moon are one of the major events of the 20th century. After three days of traveling through the emptiness of space, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin accomplish the feat of landing on the surface of the Moon. The race to the Moon is over, and the United States won.
The Soviets, pioneers in space, have seen their technological progress slow down, notably after the death of their most committed engineer, Sergei Korolev on January 14, 1966. The Americans' success, skillfully exploited by the media, turned into public opinion. Now the place of the USSR in the collective imagination is a mere second in the conquest of space.
Public Relation is the Complement of Know-How.
So, the race to the Moon was also a publicity competition. Once won, space gradually lost its interest in the eyes of the nations and the public. However, the conquest of space did not stop there. In 1971, the Soviets built the space station Salyut 1. For the first time, men live in space. In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager probes to explore the Solar System. Today, after 18 billion kilometers, Voyager 1 has just left it and is continuing on its way to infinity.
On April 12th, 1981, Columbia, the first Space Shuttle, lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center. Designed to be reused, it returns to Earth less than three days later, ready for a new mission.
On March 6th, 1986, the Russian Mir station became operational. Its 12,000 cubic feet of living space will be home to 104 space travelers over 15 years. Then the Europeans joined forces with the United States to put the Hubble Telescope into service in 1990.
A real concentration of technologies, this space telescope made it possible to confirm the existence of black holes. Patiently assembled over several years, the International Space Station is the starting point for the greatest international scientific and technological cooperation in history. It's the advanced base for humanity in space.
Inventing The Future.
The conquest of space is like a Formula 1 race. In everyday life, nobody drives a Formula 1. These high-tech cars are far too fragile and expensive. So the temptation is to say that these races serve no purpose. However, to have any hope of winning, each team must carry out research and develop new techniques. Initially, these new techniques are jealously guarded and used in competition. But after a certain time, we see them on the production lines of standard cars. The same thing happens in the exploration of space. The conquest of space has been the driver of an incredible number of new technologies. GPS in our cars and telephones, survival blankets, high-speed train brakes, Velcro, fire-proofed fabrics, airbags, telephone satellites, Teflon, diapers, and even video game joysticks.
Every day in our daily lives, we use technology derived from the conquest of space. So inventions are born of technological challenges and end up in our supermarkets.
The conquest of space has revolutionized our daily lives. Yet, since the fall of the USSR, less and less money has been invested. With human-crewed flights a regular occurrence, public interest has slowly waned. Today, who can name the astronauts of the various space missions? Their problem flights are extremely expensive. When you have to pay the bills daily, the technological interest in conquering space can seem remote. So, to be profitable, a space mission must provide something in exchange. A new, more effective and marketable technology. This new orientation has led space agencies to look for money where they find it.
In 1996, the Pepsi Cola company paid one million dollars to have a giant inflatable can place in space. The Russian Space Agency found another solution. For around 30 million dollars, a civilian can treat himself to a round-trip to the International Space Station if there's a place left in the rocket.
TICKET TO SPACE
More recently, Richard Branson created the Virgin Galactic company, which offers the general public sub-orbital flights of two to three hours, of which five minutes is weightless. These flights, carried out in a new type of shuttle, would not depend on government agencies. The price of the ticket is $250,000. In the long term, the visionary idea is to apply the same method as for aviation, computers or mobile phones.
Make the technology of space flight economically viable and available to all. To date, the company has already taken 700 reservations. After the conquest by the pioneers, humanity is getting ready to invest in space. But that is another story.
The pioneer's spirit. By definition, a pioneer is ahead of his time. The first to undertake an enterprise. At first, a dream, the conquest of space, has become a reality. After walking on the Moon, men now live permanently in space and make return trips to the Earth. Over our heads, hundreds of satellites are orbiting and allowing our civilization to live the digital revolution.
At this very moment, robots designed and operated by man are driving over the soil of Mars, and telescopes are scanning the depths of the Cosmos to decode the secrets of the Universe.
What does the future hold for us? The colonization of Mars? Journeys into space in the same way we take our cars? The discovery of evidence of alien life?
We went to the Moon using rockets originally planned to be fitted with nuclear warheads. The Cold War drove the conquest of space. Space programs have already cost astronomical sums. But the profound nature of human beings always seems to drive us to push back limits, to grasp the unknown.
This curiosity has been with us since the dawn of humanity. Understanding our origins. Determining our place in the Universe. Deciding what to make of tomorrow. Of all the species living on Earth, the Human Being is surely the only one who wants to go there when they look at the stars.