This story is shown in
July 2019 edition of
National Geographic newspaper.
Yuri Gagarin, Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong – the first wave of space travelers – were military-trained astronauts believed they had "right things" for risky missions.
But early spaceflight was not "exclusive province men or even humans. Fruit flying, monkeys, mice, dogs, rabbits and rats flew into space before humans.
More than three years before Gagarin became the first man in space With his journey in April 1
Independent, Hermann Oberth and Robert Goddard reached similar conclusions. By 1926, Goddard, an American, had built and launched the first liquid-based rocket. About that time, Oberth, who lived in Germany, decided that several steps are crucial for long journeys.
Four decades later, the trio's thoughts broke into life in the huge Saturn V rockets that struck Apollo crews into space. Saturn V was the most powerful rocket ever built and measures 363 meters long and is powered by liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen and kerosene. Constructed by Wernher von Braun – a rocket scientist from Nazi Germany who moved much of his team to work for the United States after World War II – Saturn V had three successive steps. Raketry is still controlled by Tsiolkovsky's equation. But no rocket has yet darkened Saturn V, which drove people closer to the stars than ever before.
Source: NASA IMAGE COLLECTION / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO (TOP); NASA / U.S. GEOLOGICAL CONTROL / LUNAR AND PLANETARY INSTITUTE (Bottom)
In the 1960s our moon was still a very mystery. In order to learn most of the Apollo visits, NASA chose landing sites in a variety of moon areas, including the dark, flat plains, sculpted by lost lava oceans and the highlands formed by meteoric impacts.
From 1969 to 1972, American astronauts landed Six places, each chosen for different scientific goals. Everyone was on the moon's spotted close side, where the terrain had been extensively studied by moon balls and Mission Control could remain in direct contact with the astronauts.
Space agencies have sent probes, not people on them and hence no need to worry about human security, to visit far-reaching places in the solar system. Spacecraft has explored 60 other moons and even sat on one, Saturn Titan. On our own moon robot robbers have left tracks in four places.
China made history earlier this year by setting its Chang 4 landers on the moon's long side.
The first private landlord to reach the moon crashed in April, but the Israeli idea behind it soon announced plans to try again.
In order not to pass, the United States intends to send a series of landers with technology to lay the foundation for the astronauts to return.
Source: NASA JOHNSON SPACE CENTER
For four years, NASA astronauts took 842 pounds of moon stones back to earth. But the most deep souvenirs weigh nothing: pictures of the earth. Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders struck an iconic Christmas Eve 1968 and shows our blue planet in the dark near the moon's sterile, cratered horizon.
The astronauts not only took photos and collected moon stones, they also carried a series of objects from the earth to space with them.
John Young (Gemini 3) smoothly boarded a corned beef sandwich and shared it with Gus Grissom, his crew member. Grissom got it when crumbs began to float around the cottage.
Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11) took wine, bread and a caliber to celebrate communion. His crew member Neil Armstrong carried a piece of Wright Flyer's wooden propeller. Alan Shepard (Apollo 14) used a sock to hide a six-iron club head, which he attached to a tool handle to hit two golf balls on the moon. Charles Duke (Apollo 16) packed a family photo and left it in Descartes Highlands.
Perhaps the most gripping memories of the moon surface are a small aluminum human figure placed by David Scott during Apollo 15. It is near a
When the space race boomed it struck its endeavors into the zeitgeist – and transformed how we live.
Sputnik inspired replicas and songs. Life Magazine published exclusive stories about the life of the famous Mercury Seven, America's first astronauts. Seattle built the Space Needle for the world's fair. Stanley Kubrick created 2001: A Space Odyssey. The age flourished in films, television, music, architecture and design, where the elegant, aerodynamic rocket line inspired the appearance of cars and trains.
The room is still in popular culture. The NASA logo is displayed everywhere, from tattoos to Vans high-tops. We've had Star Trek, The Jetsons, Mork & Mindy, Star Wars, and the current rendition of Mars movies and room TV shows. Also: Houston Astros and Houston Rockets, space camps, antigravity ballpoint pens, astronaut ice cream, moonwalk and Space Mountain.
Concepts such as "right things", "moon shot" and "light years" "Included in everyday conversations. Your first day back after vacation can be filled with" reentry "problems. can taste like "rocket fuel" or even use these words as their name. And when you discover a disturbing situation, you can safely say, "Houston, we have a problem."
When people went to the moon 50 years ago this month, it was one of history's most amazing moments and not just because our first visit to another world was among mankind's greatest scientific achievements or because it was the culmination of an epic race between two global superpowers, although both were The New York Times posted a poem by Archibald MacLeish on the front, and news writer Walter Cronkite, "the most trusted man in America", would say that people living 500 years in the future would consider the moon landing as "the most important achievement all the time".
However, the ultimate meaning was not that the competition was over or even that an outstandingly obvious milestone had been achieved.
This achievement was really just the beginning.
Beginning of a new era in humanity's vision of its horizons, of the places we could explore and perhaps even live. After starting as a landing type, our reach extended to the whole planet as we became shipping and conquered the atmosphere over the earth when drifting flight made us shiver, we were now destined to be pilgrims in a great new world. We were space explorers – and soon, as this seminal triumph helped us to come across what famous scholar and writer Isaac Asimov called our "planetary chauvinism," we would become an extra-planetary species. "Earthlings" would no longer be enough to describe who we were.
All this is expected generally, among euphoria and wonder on July 20, 1969, when Eagle, Apollo 11's lunar module, touched on the lunar surface. The biggest journey begins with a single step. A small step for a man; an enormous leap for all humanity.
The head of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Thomas O Paine, soon aspires to Mars, and not just as a goal for a day but with a detailed itinerary in National Geographic. Departure: October 3, 1983. Crew of 12, divided between two 250-foot spacecraft fired by the nuclear rocket. Enter Mars Orbit: June 9, 1984. Eighty days of exploration on the Mars surface. Return to Earth's Orbit: May 25, 1985.
The task of reaching the moon somehow raised mankind, which gave us confidence that we would really push deeper into space. "Wherever we went, people, instead of saying," Well, you Americans did it, "everywhere they said," We did it! "" Reminded Michael Collins, pilot of the Apollo 11 command module. "We humanity, we humanity, we humans did."
The sunrise is still a few hours away, and as the bus cuts a lonely road through miles of distant steppe in southern Kazakhstan, its headlights sometimes illuminate for the shortest moment a giant pale mural or tiled brick mosaic. These stylized works of art show the softness that bears summers and bitter winters. They adorn large, rusty, abandoned buildings, and they celebrate the decades-old shades of a space program in a nation that no longer exists: the Soviet Union.
Finally, after miles of this Twilight Zone the landscape of Cold War detritus, the bus makes a sudden turn down a gated lane and arrives at a giant, banged up structure that is definitely not abandoned. Well-armed Russian and Kazakh security personnel in camouflage equipment seem to have the place surrounded, and it is bathed in headlights. Inside this hangar is a shiny new rocket ship.
I've come to Baikonur Cosmodrome because I'm only shy of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, it's the only place on the planet where I can see a human bursting into space. The only place in the universe that these people can fly to is the International Space Station, about 250 miles across the earth, which is barely one thousand of the distance to the moon.
Over the past eight years, since then, NASA's retired space shuttle, the only way it has been able to get an American astronaut to the space station has been to take a ride with its Russian counterpart, so-called Roscosmos, at about $ 82 million for one. Place upside down.  Fifty years from the moon landing, this is we in space, if we "mean" mean people. Which surely sounds like virtually nowhere, at least as measured by the 1969 high expectations. Twelve people – all Americans, all men have gone on the moon, none since 1972, and other than on Earth's space stations, no man has set foot elsewhere in the universe.
Measured differently Of course, we do extraordinary things in space.
We have sent unclear probes to explore all the other planets in our solar system, providing astounding photographs and panties of data. Twin Voyager spacecraft has literally sped over the solar system and into interstellar space, the first human-created objects ever to do so. They are more than  11 billion miles away and still communicate with us.
Because Voyagers could travel forever into the void and both the sun and the earth have an expiration date (don't worry, it's a way to remove), it is conceivable that one day these then-size eternal visitors will be there the only evidence we ever existed. Still, it is also conceivable that a subsequent species to us has long gone interstellar then, hopefully giving us some recognition for their achievements.
And if they do, they may point to this moment in time – the end of the 2010s early 2020s as the "bend shift," which is how Jim Keravala, a physicist who has overseen satellite launches in Russian, European and American rockets characterize the frenzy of activity in the commercial space industry today.
We are, Keravala says, at the beginning of "the real beginning of the era of space settlement and the future world of humanity". (Keravala is now leading OffWorld, a company that intends to distribute millions of robots to make the inner solar system a "better", milder, greener place for life and civilization.)
Keravala's exciting prediction is highly debatable, partly due to because the chestnut of the old industry – "space is difficult" – staples to be true: adversity and delays are virtually always part of the march to progress.
But it is undeniable that something big is going on in space. SpaceX and Boeing move closer to the certification of their spacecraft models, and put NASA "on the precipitation of launching US astronauts on US rockets from US ground," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, who are Apollo's tight modules as a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. – is a prop-driven airline from the 1950s – can perform crew-led missions since this year or early next year.
Meanwhile, spacecraft built for two other private companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, have also made great progress, bringing us closer to a new era of space tourism. To begin shots, the well-known customers shoot up to a height of 60 uneven miles, to the edge of outer space, where the client will experience zero-gravity gravity and see the black space of the universe and the blue curvature of Earth. All of this can be yours for just $ 200,000 or so at the moment – but both companies say prices will drop rapidly and the alternatives will grow as they take on more rocket launchers.
Blue Origin also shakes up the race to put people back on the moon and announces in May that it is building a lander named Blue Moon. The robot vehicle will be able to take up to seven tonnes of goods and be able to lay astronauts on the moon surface in 2024.
The action in space is hardly limited to American companies or Russia's programs. In January, China shouted that it "opened a new chapter" on moon exploration by landing an unspoiled spacecraft on the first page, the first time a vehicle had ever touched down there. The spacecraft used a rover that carries a "mini-biosphere", intended to test whether fruit flies and a variety of plants and seeds can work together to create food in lunar conditions. China announced in April that it intends to build a research station on the lunar southern polar region within the next decade, although the nation's space agency is still the mother of how soon it may attempt to land "taikonauts", as its astronauts are known on
in Israel, That looks like a fancy "start-up nation", there were both bowls and tears in April, when a nonprofit consortium was called
SpaceIL made history as the first private concern to pave the moon. But his bid to make Israel the fourth country to soften an object where it was difficult to quit: SpaceIL's small spaceship is called Beresheet (Hebrew for Genesis or "in the beginning") crashed instead on the moon's surface and lost contact with mission control  In the distant New Zealand, from a launch peak adjacent to a giant sheep work, a company called Rocket Lab sends innovative low-cost rockets that carry satellites to a low ground.
At the edge of Dubai where the Emirates airline has forged a massive global intersection for air travelers at once empty desert, a brand new and even more colossal airport under construction is billed as the world's first "cosmotropolis". The authorities say that it will be able to handle rocket ships and hyper- and supersonic aircraft, as well as conventional jet aircraft.
And in Japan, JAXA, the official space agency, announced in March that it was working with Toyota to develop a crew guard who wanted Ld to allow astronauts to travel 6,000 miles on the moon surface.
Much of today's rocket launch is driven by intense competition among some superbillionaires whose ambitions (and egos) seem to be out of this world.
Their spacecraft is different than before, because they are not being developed purely for scientific investigation. These spacecrafts are intended to make money by fulfilling the expensive desires of wannabe astronauts or harvesting valuable resources through the mining of asteroids. by flying people quickly between some two points on earth; and actually, as Keravala suggests, by finally making us a multiparty.
Many of these space titles have a clear view of where they take the rest of us but collectively we have barely begun to discuss ethics or wisdom – of everything. If, as the relentless evangelist for space and commerce Jeff Bezos has insisted, the solar system can easily support "one trillion people", among whom we would have "a thousand Einstein's and a thousand Mozarts", then we would have agate the Amazon founder to go out and multiply in the mainland? (And if so, Amazon Prime will deliver?)
At the same time, there is something very curious about the high slogan, vision and mission statements that private space companies have in their advertising material: Many argue that it goes to space is about … Save the Earth and make it a better place.
"We open space to change the world for good" (Virgin Galactic, founded by billionaire Richard Branson). "To preserve the earth … we must go to space to tap its unlimited resources and energy" (Blue Origin, Bezos company). "We open up space to improve life on Earth" (Rocket Lab). "Imagine most trips that take less than 30 minutes, with access to anywhere in the world in an hour or less" (SpaceX, brainchild of billionaire Elon Musk, saying space travel makes such land-to-earth trips possible ).  Why are we in space? Fifty years ago, it was easy to answer the question. Reaching the Moon! Certainly, discovered, generally; and national prestige, specifically. To issue a grand proclamation of goodwill: "We came to peace for all mankind." Everyone knew that the point was to walk on the moon, return safely and crow over it.
Ask that question today and you might get some of a dozen answers. These are worth exploring, because you can't explore if we are to be in space without a sense of what we do or are doing.
Much of today's rocket launch is driven by an intense competition among some superbillionaires whose ambitions are not purely scientific: their spacecraft is meant to make money.
Outside the hangar in Kazakhstan, I get off the bus with the rest of my group – a great harvest of reporters, mostly Russians and some Canadians. We stand around and stomp our feet for a while, because it is cold at this early December day-seven degrees Fahrenheit with a steering wind that has a well under zero feel.
We are at the edge of a security barrier – my group on this side, portable cameras and notebooks, security guys on the other side, gripping weapons and talking with the goal of walkie-talkies cast in the shoulders of their uniforms. The rocket shooter is on its side on a plate tram, four tapered boosters at the bottom of a white cylinder, with a colored Russian flag on the top. As it sounds a little whistle, the train slowly pulls out, led to the launch a few miles away.
There is some drama to the launch, as it earlier in October was suspended only 57 miles up when a sensor error occurred crew capsule to distinguish from rocket and booster unit. NASA astronaut Nick Haag and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin averted disaster with a difficult emergency landing.
"The crew was happy", Anne McClain, a military lieutenant colonel, Iraq's war veteran and helicopter pilot, explained in a NASA TV news conference. "But every crew that makes it run is happy. Spaceflight is not easy."
McClain should know: A NASA astronaut, she's on the launch I'm at Cosmodrome to see.
Now Roscosmos says the problem is solved and this Soyuz rocket launch will be trouble-free. And actually, behind a glass wall in a special quarantine zone, McClain and the other two crew members tell us – in English, in Russian and in French – that they share that belief. Thumbs up around. A Russian Orthodox priest, who is common today, blesses the crew and the ship with holy water in two short but solemn ceremonies. He also blesses the collected reporter, a touch I can't help but appreciate in this time of relentless attacks on the free press.
At Baikonur, reporters witness a launch at a distance of just under one kilometer, which is considerably closer than at Cape Canaveral, where they are held about three miles away. It is a fascinating and deep spectacle: the huge outbreak of orange flame at the rocket's base upon ignition, the engine calming, the upset, the shaking. The awe I feel is intensified by the knowledge that at the ship's tip three of my fellow human beings that everything will be good, because they are pushed straight up into the sky.
The number of people living in space is about twice that of three and six. In less than three weeks, the three who were already at the space station would come home, and human census beyond the Earth's atmosphere – on the moon, on all other planets in the solar system, on all other moons, on asteroids, and in or on the many things that humanity has built and launched in a circulation over six decades – would fall back to three. The other 7.6 billion or so of us? We are still terrestrial.
Thomas O. Paine, NASA's chief in 1969, thought we would have set foot on Mars and the moon Jupiter now. His prediction can still come true – on the 100th anniversary of Apollo 11.
Soon, however, the United States would have nothing but two US solutions to accommodate spacecraft and ultimately break NASA's monopoly of Russian Soyuz rockets . These new spaceships are a first step towards much longer route assignments: to the moon, to the asteroids and even to Mars.
And so, a few months after the surprisingly moving, evenly mysterious experience of watching the Soyuz lift, I find myself 170 meters above the ground on a wonderful blue sky Florida day, the Atlantic sparkling half a mile away.
I'm at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, above the Space Launch Complex 41, whose history dates back to 1965, when it began launching Titan rockets for the space programs that preceded Apollo. It will eventually start the Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule, which will carry as many as five passengers at a time to the International Space Station.
The first thing I notice after removing the lift is four parallel zippers that lead to the foundation at the beginning of the launch complex.
"If you are an astronaut, you really do not want to take that ride," said Tony Taliancich, director and director of the launch of ULA, a launch alliance that is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Taliancich, impressively built but constantly smiling during my tour of his bailiwick, explains that these 1,300 foot lines are a critical part of the refugee system, if a last minute explosion, fire or other emergency gives rise to an abandonment order.
They are thinking of the fire that erupted in the cabin of the Apollo 1 spacecraft in January 1967, a tragedy that quickly asserts the lives of three astronauts at Launch Complex 34 near here, now a memorial to the men "Who made the ultimate victim so that others could reach the stars. "
They are also a useful reminder: Despite the progress that NASA has made in its eternal endeavor to make space travel safer, it is still a dangerous activity. Our astronauts go to the top of a bomb as they climb into the spacecraft's capsule, a bomb they trust will go out in a controlled manner.
Of the 135 space shuttle flights, two ended in disaster and claimed seven lives each. If we accepted the inaccuracy of the commercial airlines we trust in the country, we would tolerate more than 500 crashes every day.
Taliancich, who spent much of his career in airspace space-launch operations, shows me where the Starliner-crew canister fits and points out the entrance into a sealed chamber that ensures that the cab is unchanged when the astronauts enter it .
I had seen a Starliner an hour or so earlier in a nearby assembly plant. Specifically, I had seen the upper and lower halves of the conical capsule without its outer heat shields, revealing the frightening spaghetti mix of tubes, wires, and electrical cables entering spacecraft.
With improved seating and larger windows, as well as interior lighting "mood lighting", the spacecraft cab is clearly an upgrade from the 2100s from an Apollo capsule. While the lighting function sounds a little sobering, it's all but. Ultimately, advanced lighting can help regulate the astronauts' circadian rhythms and sleep cycles as well as their emotions, one of several critical challenges that must be overcome before NASA or any other space agency can send people on the monthly trip to Mars.  Just when will that Mars journey finally occur?
NASA has no specific timeline for human exploration of the red planet. Meanwhile, the focus is on sending astronauts back to the moon as a way to test both human and spacecraft.
"The moon is the proven ground; Mars is the horizon's goal," said NASA's Bridenstine in March during a presentation in Cape Canaveral revealing the agency's budget proposal.
To establish a presence on the moon, astronauts must look at ways to extract water, oxygen and helium-ash fuel for both man and machine. (Helium-3, a gas believed to exist in significant quantities there, could be used for future nuclear fusion-driven rockets.) The moon could also end up as a staging for launch elsewhere: Since it only has a sixth of Earth's gravity, much less energy is needed to send a ship beyond the moon's drag than here on our planet.
Space exploration speakers are dissatisfied with the budget and say it provides too slow a timetable to get to Mars. Bridenstine expects it to encourage the private industry to accelerate the capacity of a manning landing, and he often invokes the prison of comic character Charlie Brown to make his case that the road to Mars is genuine: "This is not Lucy and the football anymore" he says. Starliner- eller SpaceX-versionen, kallad Crew Dragon, eller båda – kan vara framtiden för mänsklig rymdutforskning.
Låt oss återvända till jorden och upprepa några saker om var vi är idag.
Vi " Det är uppenbart inte var många trodde att vi skulle vara 50 år och säkert inte där NASAs Paine sa att vi kunde vara, vilket inte bara var Mars utan även Jupiters månar och vem vet var annat. Vi är inte ens tillbaka på månen. Paine, som dog 1992, trodde att tusentals av oss skulle njuta av månliga semester i hans livstid.
"Det är ingen tvekan om att vi kan minska kostnaden för resor till månen till kostnaden för att resa genom luften idag", sa Paine Tid tidningen strax innan Apollo 11 landning.
Det är säkert möjligt att de stora förutsägelserna 1969 kommer att gå i uppfyllelse – men närmare 100-årsdagen av månlandningen, med denna halva hundraårs milstolpe markerar början av Space Age 2.0.
Musk, som säger att han avser att flytta till Mars en dag, är den mest aggressiva på en tidsram. He’s pegged 2024 for a crewed SpaceX spaceship to land on Martian soil, a projection widely dismissed as h opelessly—or recklessly—optimistic. In April a U.S. government–mandated independent analysis concluded that it was “infeasible under all budget scenarios and technology development and testing schedules” for NASA to send humans to Mars before 2034. Other Mars advocates say the early 2040s is more like it.
Landing and exploring: doable. But, to be clear, many experts consider bold projections of celestial living to be, pardon the pun, lunacy.
I ran into Bill Nye, the popular and pithy Science Guy of television fame and CEO of the Planetary Society, at a space conference last year in Washington, D.C., and he rolled his eyes at the idea that Mars will eventually be “terraformed” for human habitation.
“It’s incredibly cold, there’s hardly any water, there’s no food, and by the way, there’s nothing to breathe,” Nye said. “And the smell in your space suit—bring all the Febreze you can pack, because you’re going to be craving it on Mars.” (Nye does favor missions to the red planet, just not permanent habitation.)
The other thing to reiterate: Anything we can do, our robots can do better (in space, that is), with the exception of capturing the majesty of what’s there as only an artist or poet could. We’ve done amazing things in space without sending people there, and not just because we’ve launched all those satellites into orbit that have propelled quantum leaps in how we communicate, navigate, prognosticate—on the weather, anyway—and do countless other things here on Earth.
Probes keep sending back detailed images, and soon we will be launching a telescope into space so powerful that it will enable us to peer at faraway objects whose light originated billions of years ago. This may help us answer questions about the early universe and perhaps even locate life elsewhere in the cosmos.
Those remarkable twin Voyager probes, launched in 1977 and fueled by tiny nuclear-powered generators, are still returning data about the environment around them, sent by a radio transmitter that uses about as much power as a standard light bulb. That makes for a faint signal, but here on Earth we can “hear” what the Voyagers have to say because we’ve developed antennas sensitive enough to pick up the signal.
“Amazing” strikes me as far too limited a word to describe our most far-flung emissaries, which indeed are diplomats in that they each carry the legendary “Golden Record” of earthly sounds, music from around the world, and greetings from Jimmy Carter (the U.S. president at launch time) to inform and entertain any sentient aliens that might encounter them.
That the Voyagers are still hurtling through the heavens illustrates a serious point.
Humans simply couldn’t make this trip. With our nettlesome need for air and food and water, protection from cosmic radiation or solar flares, not to mention stimulation so we don’t go mad on the long journey to wherever, it’s worth asking: Why go at all? Why go, especially when there is basically nothing to be done that a robotic probe cannot do more efficiently, quickly, cheaply, and safely than a human being? Let’s face the truth: From mining asteroids for rare materials to snapping photos of other planets, uncrewed probes are better suited to the job.
We’re entering a second space age, in which innovations such as reusable rockets are driving down the cost of getting to Mars. The wild card: How much longer will it take to get there?
Yet this raises the question of whether it’s important for us to explore. No un-crewed journey—even one of billions of miles—will ever generate quite the thrill, suspense, or awe of a man putting the first footprint on our nearby moon—or a woman doing so someday on Mars. (The next American to step on the moon, Bridenstine says, will likely be a woman.) If members of the human species are driven to scale Mount Everest or slog to the poles, isn’t there an inevitable urge onward to Mars and beyond? It’s … you know … what we do.
“There’s a fundamental truth to our nature: Man must explore,” Apollo 15 commander David R. Scott radioed in 1971 to ground control in Houston from his spot near Hadley Rille, a valley on the moon. “And this is exploration at its greatest.”
There’s also the matter of what some futurists call an “insurance policy” for the survival of the species and others call our Plan B in case Earth itself were to become uninhabitable. That could happen through a force beyond our control, like the asteroid that seems to have annihilated the dinosaurs, or by our own folly, through nuclear war or drastic derangement of our climate.
We’ve been worried about Plan A, and that’s a good thing, because it’s by far the best plan we have, and it may be the only one. As the environmental activist and author Bill McKibben puts it, the least hospitable patch of Earth is still far more hospitable to human life than any reachable spot we have found anywhere else.
The central irony of the first space age was that the most iconic images it yielded were not those of the moon or the other planets, but the ones of our own planet. “Earthrise,” our serene-looking blue orb swaddled in swirling clouds over the moon’s horizon, is the most famous. These photographs galvanized the environmental movement, spurred new laws to clean our water and air, and prompted a lot of people to ask a simple question: “Shouldn’t we be spending all that money to fix our own problems first?”
The “all that money” part referred to the space program, which in some years consumed 4.5 percent of the federal budget. (Today NASA’s budget is half of one percent.) Getting men and women to Mars before now could easily have cost at least that much, so there’s a pretty good case to be made that we’ve been right to take a pass so far.
We’re now entering that second space age, in which relentless innovations such as reusable rockets are driving down the cost of getting there. It will surely prove much less expensive to get to Mars in another decade or three than it would be today, and certainly less than it would have been in the 1980s. That’s a good bargain, even if those of us who watched Neil Armstrong kick up a little moondust never dreamed that it would take that long.
How much longer remains the wild card.
A serious accident or tragedy in any space venture tends to set back all of them, sometimes by years. Funding is hardly bottomless: For the moment, for instance, plans for asteroid mining seem to have stalled a bit. It may or may not be true that (as the industry’s cheerleaders contend) there’s a trillion dollars or more to be harvested from rare minerals out in space, but what if it takes $100 billion or $200 billion to develop the technology to try to find out? That’s a lot of money to wager that your unicorn will come in.
Finally, space has a dark side, and not just the vast empty blackness that astronauts who have been through it describe. With the United States, China, and Russia all developing space weaponry (for defensive purposes, all three insist), we could find ourselves fighting a future war in space, launching missiles, destroying satellites, and training powerful laser weapons on earthbound targets, including people.
On my way to the Soyuz rocket launch in Kazakhstan, I stopped first in Moscow to meet with a few cosmonauts and visit some museums, because it’s hard to appreciate how NASA’s astronauts got to the moon without understanding the challenge posed by the Soviet space program that spurred them there.
Americans tend to view the push to the lunar landing as they would, say, a football game. Nobody really remembers or cares who was ahead during most of the contest; the important thing is who won, even if they had to come from three touchdowns behind to do it. By that score, the U.S. triumphed. End of story.
But in Russia, where Soviet-era cosmonauts are national icons, you come away with a Bizarro World view of a completely different space race.
In the Russian telling, the whole thing was more of a track meet, and they killed on points, even if the Americans bagged a prestige event at the end.
The list of Soviet firsts in space is indeed impressive, from the first satellite, dogs, man, and woman in space to the first multiperson crew and space walk. It’s enough to make any American appreciate the magnitude of our national humiliation in space at the hands of our Communist adversaries at the height of the Cold War and why President John F. Kennedy’s pledge to land astronauts on the moon and return them to Earth by the end of the 1960s was such a brilliant gambit to recoup prestige on the global stage.
Interestingly, the cosmonauts I met in Russia seemed to share two perspectives with their American counterparts. First, their time in space made them profoundly more interested in protecting the Earth. (Indeed, two cosmonauts gave me books they had written—not on space, but on protecting our environment.) Second, even while strongly favoring human space exploration, they think the idea of permanent, widespread human colonization of space is bonkers.
“It’s not … pleasant, actually,” Viktor Savinykh said after a long pause when I asked him about living in space.
Savinykh, 79, is famous in Russia for his role in the daring repair of a crippled, ice-encrusted, and dangerously out-of-orbit Salyut space station in 1985. “You get disoriented so easily, you can’t remember things up there,” he continued. “It’s really hard on the brain. All that sun in your eyes. It’s hard to describe. Your body weakens.”
Still, he acknowledged that Bezos’s vision could come to pass someday.
“I don’t have the answers to this,” Savinykh told me. “The new generation and then the next and then the next—they will get to decide. We did our part.”
Those generations are certainly going to ask intriguing questions. Toward the end of the space conference I’d attended in Washington, a panel of U.S. astronauts fielded videotaped queries sent in by schoolkids from around the world.
“Is it possible,” a five-year-old boy from Baltimore named Braith Ortenzi wanted to know, “to get from galaxy to galaxy?”
“I’m glad he’s thinking big!” replied Chris Ferguson, a veteran of three space shuttle missions who’s slated to be on the first Boeing Starliner trip to the space station. “We’re going to have to master this whole light-speed thing,” he added as the audience broke into laughter, “before we get galaxy to galaxy.”
“He’ll develop the technology to do it!” interjected Victor Glover, an astronaut slated for the first SpaceX Crew Dragon flight.
“Please take us,” said Nicole Stott, a retired astronaut and veteran of two trips to the space station. “Take us with you!”
Glover, nodding with a huge grin, had the final word: “It’s on you, brother!”
Sam Howe Verhovek really did stare long and hard at the moon on July 20, 1969, thinking he might spot the Apollo 11 lunar module. As a boy,
Dan Winters wanted to be an astronaut; now he revels in chronicling humankind’s explorations in space.
Nadia Drake has dreamed of dancing on the moon for as long as she can remember.