Space Exploration


Throughout history human beings have been fascinated with the unknown. Early explorers navigated across the oceans and the seas. When astronomy was established as a science, many discoveries were made and new theories were launched about the earth and the solar system, thus challenging old ideas such as the belief that the earth was flat. The genius and talent of one, man revolutionized astronomy. Galileo Galilee who after hearing of the invention of the telescope by a Dutch eye-glass maker, built his own telescope, and had the idea to point it towards the heavens. Galileo’s genius coupled with seemingly magical devise created a window into outer space for other hungry astronomers of his time allowing them to scan through our solar system and look closely at celestial bodies for the first time. Three hundred years later in the twentieth century, humankind saw many changes, wars and big technological advances.

World War II brought about the invention of the atomic bomb and the V2 rocket, and set the stage for the technological, ideologic, and economic confrontation between the two superpowers that emerged triumphant (A confrontation that polarized the world for over fifty years). Space exploration became a chief platform in a race between these powers for technological superiority. In 1957 Russia – at that time the (USSR)- shocked the world by putting the world’s first artificial satellite into orbit lunching the space race. The Sputnik, a small sphere about the size of a basketball orbited our planet for about three months, while sending radio signals back to earth. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy challenged America and the scientific community to put a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth before the end of the nineteen sixties. That goal was achieved on July 20th, 1969, effectively winning the nineteen sixties space race for America, and stablishing it as the unquestioned world leader in technological superiority.

The space race also resulted in the sending of exploratory vehicles to photograph and study the other planets in our solar system, as well as the far side of the moon, but not everything went smoothly. There were human casualties on both sides due to accidents, as the space race became more and more vibrant. In the nineteen seventies and nineteen eighties, the focus of space exploration was put on the development of orbiting space labs, and vehicles that could return to earth from space and be used over and over again. There were some successes and some failures on both sides. The Russians launched the Soyuz 1 space station, and the Americans lunched the Skylab, but ultimately it was Russia that enjoyed the greatest success with a space station with the MIR “The world’s most enduring space station to date”. The MIR in one form or another was in orbit for over fifteen years, an outstanding achievement. In the nineteen eighties the United States developed the space shuttle. This vehicle could go into space and reenter the earth’s atmosphere without disintegrating, delivering payload such as: satellites or heavy equipment for space stations into orbit.

The satellites are used for different purposes such as: communications, satellite TV, and researching the universe, as well as to study different phenomena about our own planet. When the Hubble space telescope was put into orbit, astronomers from all over the world cheered, because this was an event for which they have been waiting for many years. This telescope allows astronomers to scrutinize the vastness of the universe without the distorting effects of the earth’s atmosphere and gives them the ability to confirm or discard existing theories, and above all to make new discoveries.

The end of the Cold War and the technological advances brought by the computer age, have provided with a new opportunity for many countries to cooperate and work together. The result of this has sparked an increase in membership in the previously exclusive space club. Nowadays, countries like China and the European Union with its space program (ARIANE) can compete with the Americans and Russians in the lucrative space market. Despite disagreements in other areas, post-cold war cooperation in space exploration has continued, so that the world now has a new permanent space station called the International Space Station or “ISS”. This incredible enterprise has been made possible by the cooperation of 15 countries, showing that many nations can work together to achieve common goals. The international space station will provide a springboard for the continued exploration of outer space and for interplanetary voyages.

Vocabulary and Expressions

Fascinated = interested in or attracted to.
Navigate = to control the course and position of an airplane or ship.
Astronomy = the scientific study of matter in outer space, such as position, dimension and energy.
Thus = in this way.
Genius = very smart.
Revolutionize = to bring about a radical change.
Telescope = device that allows photographic recording of distant objects.
Astronomers = one that specializes in astronomy.
Scan = to look over quickly and systematically.
Confrontation = Discord or a clash of ideas or opinions.
Polarize = to cause a division by two conflicting or contrasting positions.
Orbit = the path of a celestial body or an artificial satellite as it revolves around another body.
Smoothly = adv. Having no obstructions or difficulties.
Labs = abbreviation for laboratories.
Outstanding = Superior to others of its kind; distinguished, excellent.
Shuttle = reusable space vehicle that can carry people to space and back to earth.
Atmosphere = the gaseous envelope surrounding the earth.
Disintegrating = to separate into parts, fall apart.
Phenomena = plural form of phenomenon, unusual, significant, or unaccountable facts or occurrences.
Cheer = to salute with shouts of approval, congratulation, triumph.
Cold war = rivalry after World War II between the Soviet Union and its satellites and the democratic countries of the Western world, under the leadership of the United States.
Lucrative = profitable, moneymaking.
Springboard = a point of departure, a base from where to lunch an expedition.
Interplanetary = travel between planets.

Conversation Activities

1. Why do you think space is fascinating?
2. Do you think the cold war helped the superpowers to develop the space programs? Why?
3. How long do you think it will take before humans can travel to other planets?
4. Do you think that it will be possible to travel at the speed of light?
5. Do you think there is life in other planets or perhaps other galaxies?