and after fifty years of human spaceflight…

It's been half a century since the first human slipped into orbit around our planet. And while we've done a lot in space since then, we haven't done nearly enough.

lounging astronaut

Today is April 12th, and if you’ve been here for a few years, you know the theme of today’s post. It’s now been half a century since Yuri Gagarin became the first human who left our planet slipped into orbit, and triggered a chain of events which culminated in the first steps on another world. As it has to be pointed out, this huge feat wasn’t an idyllic flight of fancy come to life and intended to be an accomplishment of all humankind. Instead it was a tool in a global propaganda war, a byproduct of ICBM development used by an engineer to run several experiments testing the feasibility of spy satellites and then, of living things in space. However, what humans did manage to accomplish during the Cold War, pushed technology forward by leaps and bounds, and left us an important legacy, a legacy of manned space exploration and turning what was once the stuff of fiction and fantasy into almost mundane facts. And it’s a legacy that I can only hope we’ll build upon in the near future.

Only a few decades ago, the superpowers’ governments were seriously planning permanent lunar bases, and managed to get so close to implementing their plans, the BBC decided to publish an op-ed asking what would’ve happened had the U.S. lost the space race and concluding that we might have had lunar outposts up and running only decades after the first walk on the Moon in an ongoing contest of one-upmanship. Yes, it’s rather tempting to agree with this assessment of history, and wonder what may have happened if manned space exploration was given just as much as we spend on the entire defense establishment, but this train of thought also reveals serious problems with how governments saw, and continue to see space exploration, as well as shows why our current plans for space are so lackluster and directionless, relying on projects by dreamers with aerospace startups and help from NASA to boldly return to the Moon and venture beyond. If all we care about is showing off our capabilities and making sure that those flag-planting expeditions stay as close to the budget set for them as possible, how can we ever hope to settle our solar system?

If we refuse to see the big picture of where space exploration should take us, how could we set our sights skyward with anything more than just boundless optimism? It doesn’t have to be like that, but unfortunately, to really invest in our space-faring future, we need to take our minds off the short term and use money ordinarily spent on pork barrels, earmarks, and subsidies to politicians’ voting base, far too frequently at the expense of science and education. As long as our focus is set on the next election cycle rather than what we’d want to happen in the next few decades, we’re going to be putting off the major investments and research that we will need to traverse the solar system, delaying the arrival of the technologies that will vastly improve virtually every facet of modern life, from faster and more efficient computers, to more powerful, scalable, reliable methods of power generation. We’ve had a great start when it comes to space travel. We should look back at what we had accomplished over the last half-century and make a decision. Do we let it go to waste, or do we build on what we’ve accomplished and do our best to reach further? I would really hope that we choose the latter…

# space // cold war / space exploration / space race / space travel


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