happy space exploration day
Noted astronomer Richard van der Riet Woolley once told Time magazine that human space travel is “utter bilge” and no one would put up enough money for it. Five years later, he had to eat his words as Russian test pilot Yuri Gagarin blasted off to become the first human in orbit and make seemingly impossible science fiction into science fact. On the anniversary of his historic mission, countries of the former Soviet Union celebrate Space Exploration Day and honor the many men and women who followed in his footsteps.
It’s unfortunate that Gagarin died in a plane crash just seven years later and would never see a human walking on the Moon or tell us what he thought about spaceflight today. He might have been proud to see that his mission inspired countless kids born in the former USSR (including the author) to study about space and space travel in hopes of becoming cosmonauts, or at the very least, involved in exploring the vast realm beyond our world. After all, space is vast and in the vast stretches of stars and galaxies there are all sorts of things just waiting to be found. Is there a primeval city of intelligent aliens nearby? Are there worlds on which humans could live in the far future orbiting other stars? No one knows and that’s the real fun in exploring space. You never know what you might find just around the corner.
And that’s really what Space Exploration Day is all about. It doesn’t just celebrate a person or a flight. It celebrates the idea of exploring the final frontier and reaching for the stars. Yes, we’d have to point out that the motivation for sending the first human into space was to make a big show and generate a shower of praise and international attention, not an idealistic dream of a fantastic future in which humanity roams the galaxy and takes in its wonders. The generals in charge of the Soviet space program wanted ICBMs and manned flight was seen as just a way to leap ahead of the U.S. in both technology and the global headlines. But for all the problems the Cold War caused, it did give us enough reason to be inspired that one day, humans will live on alien worlds and devote their lives to exploring the unknown. One day, we can get there and if we do, Space Exploration Day might take on a new meaning…