Exploration of Space Introduction

Welcome to one of my favorite units in the course ... the history of the exploration or space. Well, I think that every unit in this course is one of my favorites since I have enthusiasm for EVERY part of this course so this should be nothing new. I just love all of this stuff, but this material was such a huge part of my life that I can barely contain my enthusiasm for it. So, as we move from a historical look at Astronomy that features scientific discoveries of planetary motions and mathematical formulae, we now look at people and instruments who and that gave us a firsthand look at our Moon, eight other planets, at present count 172 other planetary moons, and stars out to the limits of the Universe. In am so thankful to have been alive for the greatest technological achievement of all time ... landing men on the Moon and successfully bringing them home. I hope you will enjoy this just a little bit as much as I enjoyed witnessing it.

Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed being an astronaut. I admit that my childhood was privileged from most because my Uncle John was good friends with a member of the NASA astronaut corps. As a result, he regularly received mission flight plans for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. My cousin and I would trade weekends at each other's house and vicariously experience space in our backyards. With the mission plan in hand, we could simulate what astronauts did in space. We had our basements dedicated to rocket travel. We would go underneath the basement stairs and lay chairs on their back, and then wiggle into position under the lowest stairs. On the back of these stairs we had drawn control panels for the space capsules and we would launch ourselves into orbit. Orbiting the earth was simulated by holding plastic model rockets and walking around the house as many times as our hero, Jim Lovell, did. He was our hero because he was from Wisconsin and his son went to school out in Delafield. When it was time to practice docking procedures, we would approach our rockets and connect. If we did spacewalks, it was done with a jump rope attached to the rocket. And when Apollo astronauts landed on the moon, we were busy landing in the sandbox. I will never forget the hours of fun we had during the 1960's and Johnny and I pretended to be astronauts.

Here we are in the new millennium, far removed from the heyday of space travel. We have successfully landed men on the moon, directed satellites to the gas planets and beyond, landed craft on Mars and Venus, and plunged one into the atmosphere of Jupiter. We have enjoyed a great many successes, and experienced almost as many failures. In the words of Captain Kirk, "Space is the Final Frontier." I hope to recapture some of the emotion of those days for you, as well as expose you to current and yet planned missions. We have done and learned much since Yuri Gagarin's first spaceflight on April 12, 1961. Here is a look at the history of space exploration, the triumphs and disasters, and the hope for the future.

This unit is divided into two sections: Manned and Unmanned Spaceflight histories. I have made the best effort that I can to present the Soviet and American sides of the Space Race, but I am sure that at times this unit will appear pro-America with a bias toward the USA. Political relations between Russia and the USA have dramatically improved since the Cold War, and today's students have very little concept of the tension of the 1960's. I hope to convey some of that turmoil and nervousness. Please begin this short unit by going to the History of Manned Space Flight.

Just recently, in the October, 2003, China launched humans into space in a major effort to bring about an increase in national pride, and to move their nation into a prominent place as a global "superpower." While the publically stated purpose of their manned space program is to improve scientific understanding, the unspoken political purpose is far more important. The same motivators that pushed the Americans and Russians in their race to the Moon is now doing the same in China. Click on the image below to view what is happening in the Chinese space program.

Then go to the History of Satellite Missions. A short quiz will follow the reading of the material in this unit. Remember, you can always return to the Syllabus or the Home page if you want, but this stuff is so incredibly exciting that you are probably salivating like Pavlov's dog in the exciting anticipation of what you may learn next.


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