The huge silver ball in the night sky has always moved the human intellect, and ahm..the human heart. The wish to see it, touch it and explore it has been the wish of every individual on the planet, at least once in his lifetime. Poets and scientists are equally gone moony over it. From the time we made technological advances and established space centres, scientists have tried to explore the moon, which is our planet’s only satellite.
The quest for the moon began in September 1959, when Russia’s (then USSR) Luna2 for the first time touched the moon’s surface. The event marked the beginning of the mad-race of lunar explorations.
The US, USSR’s Cold War rival, caught up with Russia, when in December 1968, it launched Apollo 8 its first manned mission to orbit the moon. After that the only question was who would step on the moon first.
It was America which achieved the historic feat first. In 1969, Apollo11, US, a craft which has since become legendary, became the first to land on the moon’s surface, and its commander Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on its surface.
How can we forget his famous quote? “A small step of human, a giant leap for mankind.”
It was indeed a huge advancement for mankind, it was the first thing humans landed on outside of earth. It boosted the confidence of the scientific community, and they began to work even harder to unravel moon’s mysteries.
In 1970, USSR’s first robotic rover Lunokhod1, which was part of Luna17 mission, made a successful moon landing. And then in August 1976, Luna24 returned to earth after its successful lunar mission. This was the last lunar mission till 1990.
In Jan 1990, a third country joined US and the USSR in the quest for a piece of the moon. Japan’s Hiten orbited the moon, but did not land. In September 2003, European Space Agency launched a small low-cost lunar orbiter SMART-1. In 2007, Japan launched Selene, a lunar orbiter, for mapping the moon’s topography and to understand moon’s geological evolution of moon. With Chang’e-1, China initiated its first unmanned moon mission in 2007.
More countries are waiting in the wings and getting ready to join the lunar bandwagon. India is already geared up with its ‘Chandrayan’ and is just about to touch the ‘Chandamama.’ This obsession is just going to catch on, from country after country, till we get to know all the nitty-gritties of our only Satellite, moon.
Milestones in space exploration
The journey to the moon was made in the context of a larger mission to explore space.
When the Soviet Union launched its "October surprise" in 1957, it began a space race with the United States largely driven by politics and fear. Now, as the 50th anniversary of the October 4 launch of Sputnik 1 rolls in, the face of space exploration has changed dramatically.
Today, Russia and the United States continue to lead the rest of the world in research and space flight. The two nations have put more than a hundred astronauts (not to mention plant seeds, fruit flies, and a dog named Laika) into space. And what began as Cold War competition has since turned into cooperation, resulting in a state-of-the-art experimental lab orbiting Earth that`s hosted researchers from around the world and contributed to scores of scientific studies. More than a dozen countries have since contributed technology, research and manpower to further the work being done at the International Space Station.
But it`s not just governments making strides in space. Frustrated with the pace at which NASA has worked since its "golden age" in the 1960s and `70s, several well-funded entreprenuers are taking it upon themselves to make commercial space travel a reality. A handful of private companies are making plans to bring tourists on suborbital flights and even to set up floating space hotels.
Meanwhile, much of the technology that`s been developed to facilitate space exploration has benefited business. The commercial satellite market has turned into a multibillion dollar industry, albeit one with an uncertain future. And some of the most significant things to come out of Silicon Valley have their roots in NASA labs.
Here is a look at some of the key events that brought humans into space and brought home valuable information that will guide where we go next:
October 4, 1957--Soviet Union launches Sputnik I.
November 3, 1957--Sputnik II launches, with ill-fated Laika the dog on board.
January 31, 1958--United States launches Explorer I from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
October 1, 1958--NASA is formed after Congress passes the National Aeronautics and Space Act.
April 12, 1961--Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to enter space and return safely.
May 5, 1961--With the launch of Freedom 7, Alan Shepard becomes the first American man in space. The suborbital flight, which was part of the Mercury Project, lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds.
May 25, 1961--US President John F. Kennedy announces the goal of sending astronauts to the moon before the end of the decade.
February 20, 1962--Launch of Friendship 7 (also part of the Mercury Project) makes astronaut John Glenn the first American to go into orbit. Total flight time was just shy of five hours.
August 21, 1965--Launch of Gemini 5, carrying astronauts Gordon Cooper and Charles Conrad on an eight-day mission to test rendezvous guidance and navigation systems, as well as study how humans could handle long-term exposure to a space environment. Gemini would be the critical link between the early Mercury Project and the Apollo missions.
January 27, 1967--Mission AS-204 is struck by tragedy when a flash fire breaks out during a launch pad test, killing three astronauts: Virgil Grissom, who had participated in Mercury and Gemini flights; Edward White, who conducted NASA`s first extravehicular activity; and new astronaut Roger Chaffee. The mission, one of NASA`s first major setbacks, was later renamed Apollo 1.
November 9, 1967--First test flight of the Saturn V rocket, which would carry dozens of spacecraft into space in the years to come.
March 2, 1972--Launch of unmanned Pioneer 10: Earth`s first space probe to an outer planet, the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt, the first spacecraft to make direct observations and obtain close-up images of Jupiter, and the first man-made object to leave the solar system. Pioneer 10 sent its last communication back to Earth on January 22, 2003, while 7.6 billion miles from home.
May 14, 1973--United States launches its first experimental space station, the Skylab.
July 15, 1975--Apollo-Soyuz Test Project is the first international manned space flight to test out cooperated space rescue and docking.
August 20, 1975--Launch of Viking 1, the first orbiter and lander sent to Mars. Viking 2 would launch a few weeks later. Both landed safely on Mars and for six years sent back the first set of images and data from the Martian surface.
August 20, 1977--Launch of Voyager 2, one of a pair of spacecraft sent by NASA on what was supposed to be a five-year mission to study Jupiter and Saturn. Voyagers 1 and 2 continue to send back pictures and data today, 30 years later from nearly 10 billion miles away.
September 5, 1977--Launch of Voyager 1.
May 20, 1978--Launch of the first of two spacecraft called Pioneer Venus, which would study the Venusian atmosphere.
April 12, 1981--Aboard the space shuttle Columbia, Robert L. Crippen and John W. Young make the first mission in NASA`s space shuttle program.
June 18, 1983--Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space with launch of shuttle mission STS-7 aboard the space shuttle Challenger.
August 30, 1983--Guion S. Bluford, Jr., becomes first black man in space with launch of shuttle mission STS-8 aboard the space shuttle Challenger.
January 28, 1986--First major catastrophe for NASA, when space shuttle Challenger (mission STS-51L) explodes 73 seconds after takeoff with seven crewmembers aboard.
February 19, 1986--Mir space station launches.
October 18, 1989--Space shuttle Atlantis launches Galileo to study Jupiter and its moons. It took Galileo six years to reach Jupiter, and it finally disintegrated in Jupiter`s atmosphere in September of 2003, 14 years after it began its collision course toward the giant planet.
February 3-11, 1994--Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev becomes the first Russian to fly aboard a US space shuttle.
March 14, 1995--Astronaut Norman Thagard launched with Cosmonauts Vladimir Dezhurov and Gennady Strekalov aboard a Russian Soyuz to spend 115 days on Mir.
December 4, 1996--Launch of Mars Pathfinder.
July 4, 1997--Pathfinder lands on Mars. The rover Sojourner would go on to explore the Martian surface for more than 80 days.
November 20, 1998--First piece of the International Space Station is launched.
November 2, 2000--The crew of Expedition One, astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, dock at the International Space Station. They are the first people to take up residence at the ISS, staying there for several months.
August 8, 2001--Launch of Genesis, which would collect samples of atoms from solar wind. Genesis would be the first attempt to return samples to Earth since the Apollo moon mission in 1972.
February 1, 2003--Crew of seven astronauts, including the first Israeli astronaut, is lost after a 16-day mission when the Columbia space shuttle explodes on re-entry. The accident was later attributed to damage sustained to foam insulation and has led NASA to understand how to safely repair similar damage on later missions.
June 10 and July 7, 2003--Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity launch.
January 2004--Spirit and Opportunity arrive on the Martian surface. They continue to explore the Red Planet today.
September 8, 2004--After capturing particles from the sun, Genesis makes a dramatic crash landing in Utah when its parachute fails to deploy. Despite the landing, scientists still managed to recover and study the samples.
September 30, 2004--SpaceShipOne becomes the first privately built craft to reach outer space.
August 4, 2007--Phoenix lander launches on its way to explore the northern pole of Mars.