“Sky is the limit.” Dale Carnegie, the American inspirational writer, wrote once. However, NASA and five other serious space runners are telling the world now that the sky is not a limit for them. Instead, it is their gateway to the secret chambers of the universe, where valuable cosmic truths are a secret. Moreover, they are after it vigorously. This thrilling hunt had its origin in the struggle for supremacy of two superpowers of yore. Also, it is a comical paradox of history that the cold war between the erstwhile USSR and the USA, finally brought out something good for the entire humanity. Nevertheless, this write up does not intend to provide full details of such explorations but to view how the space programs of NASA and others impacted science and technology and how far it benefited the humanity as a whole.
Major Runners in the Space Race
Though the earth has 194 national identities, only 74 are in the space race. Out of it, ten are having space rocket launch facilities, and among them, six are the best in the race. They are listed alphabetically
- CNSA [Chinese National Space Agency}
- ESA [European Space Agency: it is a consortium of 31 European countries]
- ISRO [Indian Space Research Organization] 4.JAXA [Japanese Aero Space Exploration Agency]
- NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] 6.ROSCOSMOS [Russian space agency].
A Brief History of NASA and five other space runners
- NASA: This behemoth organization came into being in 1958 as a fallout of the Soviet Union’s space odyssey started in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik 1. National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] came into existence on July 29, 1958, and become fully operational on Oct 1, 1958, precisely three days ahead of the 1st anniversary of Sputnik launch. On Oct 11, 1958, under the banner of NASA, Pioneer 1 rose from the Cape Canaveral launch pad to reach the moon orbit. Due to technical snags after 43 hours of liftoff, it re-entered in the earth’s atmosphere and ended up in the Pacific Ocean. Pioneer Moon series ended with Pioneer 4. However, Apollo missions continued the lunar experiments, and Apollo 11 took humanity to the moon through Neil Armstrong and Edwin Buzz Aldrin, creating history on Jul 20, 1969. From there, NASA has sojourned a long distance, and their satellites Voyager1& 2 had crossed over to interstellar space, years back. In the future, NASA may put man again on some other distant planet that may nurture human life. Annual budget: USD 20.76 billion.
- ROSCOSMOS: Roscosmos has become the legal heir of erstwhile USSR’s space legacy consequent upon the breakup of the Soviet republic in 1991. ROSCOSMOS came into being in 1992. It represents now the Russian interests in space. Russia was at the pinnacle of glory in space exploration during the 1950s and 1960’s’. Konstantine Tsiolkovsky pioneered the art of rocketry for them. They launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, on Oct 4, 1957, from Baikonour Cosmodrome. Also, the credit of sending the first man and woman to space belongs to them. Yuri Gagarin became the first man to space on Apr 12, 1961, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman on June 16, 1963. Disasters of 1960, 1967, and 1971 had affected Russian space programs considerably, and finally, the disintegration of the Soviet Union hindered their progress. However, the space station technology developed and applied by them had attracted even their arch rival NASA, and limited collaboration started between them in 1987. It blossomed into partnership later and is quite evident in the affairs of the International Space station now. Annual Budget: USD 5.66 billion.
- ISRO: India started its space research activities under the Indian National Committee for Space Research established in 1962. Vikram Sarabhai, the great visionary scientist, created the Indian Space Research Organization from the above mentioned INCOSPAR on Aug 15, 1969. World’s first geostationary satellite Syncom-3 launched by America in 1964, convinced Vikram Sarabhai that satellites have a lot to do for the Indian nation. Because the said satellite communicated across the Pacific, the details of the 1st Tokyo Olympics held in 1964. The genius in him saw the potential of satellites in communication, and he charted the course of his organization accordingly. It made ISRO the largest fleet owner of Communication Satellites (INSAT) and Remote sensing satellites (IRS) now. Also, ISRO has developed the reliable launch systems known as Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), to the envy of others. Partial failure of the Chandran-2 mission was the only thing that dampened its spirit recently. Annual Budget: USD 1.45 billion.
- ESA: The first chapter of European space saga wrote jointly by Italian Physicist and scientific Statesmen Edoardo Amaldi and Frenchman Pierre Augur. The European collaborative space programs started in the 1950s as the European Space Research Organization. Moreover, after a period, it transformed as European Launch Development Organization to become the European Space Agency in 1973. Actually, the wars fuelled European space programs. Now ESA has 22 council member countries and nine associate member countries bringing the strength of the consortium members to 31. ESA is headquartered in Paris. Annual Budget: USD 6.43 billion.
- JAXA: Japan’s space organization JAXA came into existence in Oct 2003 by merging three institutions named Space and Astronautical Science, National Aerospace Laboratory, and National Space Development Agency. Japan’s latest launch took place in Dec. 2016. The satellite ARASE’ (ERG) was launched using Epsilon-2 launch vehicle for the study of energization and radiation in the upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and magnetosphere. Annual Budget: USD 1.71 billion.
- CNSA: It is one of the most secretive space organizations in the world. China was in the field since 1958, but recently, only the world became aware of their strength. China launched its Lunar Probe Chang’ e-4 on Dec.2018, and their lunar rover Yutu-2 is still exploring an unexplored region of moon hitherto. On Sept.22, 2019, they have launched a pair of navigational satellites too. Annual Budget: USD 0.5 billion (not reliable).
If you ask which one is the best of best, then NASA is the answer, because they are well ahead of others on several counts like budgetary provision, employees, the number of deep space launches, and research. Its Insight Lander recently recorded the sounds of Mars-quake and surprised the world.
How Space Race Benefited Humanity
On a rough count, around a sum of 36.51 billion USD in total is spent every year for space related experiments by all six participants in the game. How beneficial it is to me and my country may be a question asked by the ordinary taxpayer of each country. One may not comprehend the need for spending millions for a race where victory is uncertain. However, the fact is that every society, whether directly involved in the game or not, would become a beneficiary of this grand game today or tomorrow.
Space related researches and experiments had brought out a lot of new tools and devices that touch the day to day life of us, especially in the field of communication and health sector. Long distance instant communication is a direct outcome of space research.
Space-related research revolutionized the communication system entirely, thereby made the world one global village. It fuelled inventions in the field of Health and Medicine, Transportation, Public Safety, Consumer goods, Home, Recreation, Environmental and AgriculturalResources, Computer Technology, and Industrial Productivity. The Meteorological satellites up above act as the modern angels of humankind warning them about climate changes, the effect of pollutions, fires, rain clouds, dust storms, and snow cover in polar regions. If they were not up there, we would have been sitting ducks before nature’s fury several times.
If I list the number of tools and devices created for and as a result of space related research, it will run into pages and pages. Yet a few are listed below.
- Cell phone camera
- Scratch resistant lenses
- Foil blankets, Solar Energy
- Ear Thermometers
- Wireless headsets
- Smoke detectors, Computer mouse
- Laptop computers
- Artificial Limbs
- CT scanners
In short, the space race started out of ideological differences of two superpowers, and in the early stages, it was a race to satisfy the ego of them. Since space is a hostile area to play with and ever ready to offer new challenges, the players had to strive deep into all the fields of knowledge to find solutions to the riddles raised by space. In turn, such studies and experiments helped to improve the life quality of everyone on earth knowingly or unknowingly. The nations that follow different ideological tracks are willing to help each other irrespective of their differences. That itself is a great thing. Space exploration is an expensive game, but humankind cannot back out from it anymore.