and what can we do about it?
We talk a lot about Mars nowadays because it is a very topical subject but what about going beyond Mars? What would it take to get humanity off Earth in general? What would it take for the human species to become a space faring civilization? We have been to the Moon, and when we temporarily stopped doing that, in 1972, after a while, we only managed to ferry cargo and people up and down on a 400 km highway to the International Space Station.
So of course everybody who is interested in human space travel is asking themselves in horror: “Is this it? That’s all that these governments can do? And how come we never returned to the Moon in the first place?” These are the most common questions we received over the years here at Milky-Way.Kiwi. Many people are very eager to throw stones at the space programmes around the world and blame governments for not doing anything. Other people are getting very excited about the possibility of private space travel. As with many other things the reality is far more complex than depicted in Star Trek or science fiction novels. The good news is that everybody who is interested in seeing humanity becoming a space faring civilisation can help achieve this goal. This series of articles will explore how.
In the beginning
It’s always a good idea to look at the past to how things started in order to understand why things have taken the current path.
A short history of how we have gotten in the space in the first place.
Only a hundred years ago, says Everett C. Dolman in his book Astropolitik, the idea of leaving Earth’s atmosphere was still in the domain of science-fiction writers who actually created the theoretical framework for going to space. Scientists deduced the necessary mathematical equations, but it seemed that almost everything they brought to fruition in the lab or on the drawing board, science-fiction writers including Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and others, had already been written about in marvellous detail a generation or more before.
Thinking about it and doing it are two different beasts. Space flight could not have occurred so rapidly if it were not for a great effort that required concerted action: War. Wars have always provided a motivation for accelerated development of the technological know-how. The invention that had the most impact on humankind, the telescope was first developed in 1608 as a tool for spotting enemy troupes. Subsequently it was pointed at the stars and seeing those alien worlds fired people’s imagination, including with dreams of space travel. Since then many wars occurred, but World War I and World War II were the most significant catalysts for space flight, although the Cold War also provided incentives for space exploration.
The dream for space exploration finally found a way to being accomplished even though the institutionalization of it started in the initial context of the militarized space race. What does institutionalization mean? A good example of an institution is marriage, the other is driving on the left hand side in New Zealand. It means a system of rules to which people can choose (or not) to adhere. Institutions do not occur at random, most of times they are constructed on older institutions. Such as space exploration was constructed on a road that, unfortunately, was paved by war. It was war that steered humans from their fantasies towards beginning to develop normative and regulatory frameworks for space exploration that now are routines for how to use Earth’s orbit for telecommunications, weather predictions via remote sensing or surveillance.
Humanity’s road to space launched with the dreams of visionaries like Leonardo da Vinci and Jules Verne and the practical work of three key scientists — Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in Russia, Robert Goddard in the United States and Hermann Oberth in Europe. The three fathers of rocketry conceptualized their thoughts independently during the early 20th century. Working on his project called ‘The Rocket into Planetary Space’ Hermann Oberth believed that the purpose of space flight was “to make available for life every place where life is possible. To make inhabitable all worlds as yet uninhabitable, and all life purposeful.” (NASA 2010)
His and everyone else’s peaceful efforts were to be preempted by events leading to World War I and II. The peaceful purpose of making “inhabitable all worlds as yet uninhabitable, and all life purposeful” was to be deterred by Nazi Germany. Although the rocket was invented concomitantly in three countries, United States, Germany and Russia, it was Nazi Germany that first realised the possibilities of using long-distance rockets as weapons. Research was undertaken in the 1930s and 1940s, and late in World War II London was attacked by 200-mile-range V-2 missiles, which arched 60 miles high over the English Channel at more than 3,500 miles per hour (Aerospace Corporation 2015).
As Burrows puts it, even though they were developed for the wrong reason, rockets have been developed.
These same missiles, after being captured by the U.S., returned the first pictures from space along with data about the upper atmosphere. Someone had the idea to attach a camera on one of the rockets. The pictures have been taken from an altitude of 65 miles by a 35-millimeter motion picture camera riding on a V-2 missile launched from the White Sands Missile Range. The rocket-borne camera climbed straight up, then fell back to Earth minutes later, slamming into the ground at 500 feet per second. The camera itself was smashed, but the film, protected in a steel cassette, was unharmed. According to the AirSpace Magazine, Clyde Holliday, the engineer who developed the camera, wrote in National Geographic in 1950, the V-2 photos showed for the first time “how our Earth would look to visitors from another planet coming in on a space ship.
The space age had begun.