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Space ships were not actually discovered; instead, they were designed--first by rocket scientists in Germany before and during World War II. The first crafts capable of reaching outer space were based on ballistic missiles created by Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The leaders of the secret program in Kummersdorf-West (near Berlin) included the young engineer Wernher von Braun, who helped to design the Aggregate-4 (A-4) rocket in 1942--the first vehicle to reach outer space during its initial tests. The A-4 later became known as the V-2, capable of speeds of 2500 miles per hour. Following the war, the Russians and Americans captured many members of the German rocket team, and von Braun was "recruited" to lead the fledgling U. S. space program. (The Soviet space program was led by a former Russian dissident, Sergey Korolyov.) Von Braun's team would eventually develop the WAC Corporal (the first two-stage rocket), which was the first craft to take photographs from space; and the Redstone rocket, which would serve as the launch model for satellites and the first Mercury missions.
While the observation of objects in space, known as astronomy, predates reliable recorded history, it was the development of large and relatively efficient rockets during the early 20th century that allowed physical space exploration to become a reality. Common rationales for exploring space include advancing scientific research, uniting different nations, ensuring the future survival of humanity and developing military and strategic advantages against other countries. Various criticisms of space exploration are sometimes made.
Space exploration has often been used as a proxy competition for geopolitical rivalries such as the Cold War. The early era of space exploration was driven by a "Space Race" between the Soviet Union and the United States, the launch of the first man-made object to orbit the Earth, the USSR's Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957, and the first Moon landing by the American Apollo 11 craft on July 20, 1969 are often taken as the boundaries for this initial period. The Soviet space program achieved many of the first milestones, including the first living being in orbit in 1957, the first human spaceflight (Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1) in 1961, the first spacewalk (by Aleksei Leonov) in 1965, the first automatic landing on another celestial body in 1966, and the launch of the first space station (Salyut 1) in 1971.
After the first 20 years of exploration, focus shifted from one-off flights to renewable hardware, such as the Space Shuttle program, and from competition to cooperation as with the International Space Station (ISS).
With the substantial completion of the ISS following STS-133 in March 2011, plans for space exploration by the USA remain in flux. Constellation, a Bush Administration program for a return to the Moon by 2020 was judged inadequately funded and unrealistic by an expert review panel reporting in 2009. The Obama Administration proposed a revision of Constellation in 2010 to focus on the development of the capability for crewed missions beyond low earth orbit (LEO), envisioning extending the operation of the ISS beyond 2020, transferring the development of launch vehicles for human crews from NASA to the private sector, and developing technology to enable missions to beyond LEO, such as Earth/Moon L1, the Moon, Earth/Sun L2, near-earth asteroids, and Phobos or Mars orbit. As of March 2011, the US Senate and House of Representatives are still working towards a compromise NASA funding bill, which will probably terminate Constellation and fund development of a heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV).
In the 2000s, the People's Republic of China initiated a successful manned spaceflight program, while the European Union, Japan, and India have also planned future manned space missions. China, Russia, Japan, and India have advocated manned missions to the Moon during the 21st century, while the European Union has advocated manned missions to both the Moon and Mars during the 21st century. From the 1990s onwards, private interests began promoting space tourism and then private space exploration of the Moon.
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