A BRIEF HISTORY OF SPACE
You are going to be embarking on your very first space mission shortly. However, before we start it’s important to know about what has happened in the space industry, historically.
The First Rocket
Nazi Germans were the first to reach space with the V2 rocket during World War II. This was the start of a new pioneering industry. The V2 was a weapon: a long distance missile used to attack enemies. While they didn't know it at the time, their weapon was the first step towards a space movement that would bear the fruits of science and technology to all.
THE SPACE RACE
The Cold War saw Russia (USSR) race against the United States in a bid to be the most accomplished in space. Some of the greatest developments in space occurred in this era and it is still looked back on as the highlight period for the entire industry.
1957 Sputnik 1
The Russians sent the first satellite to space: Sputnik. Since then, satellite technology and usage has continued to grow and now we all rely on them on a daily basis. GPS apps, weather forecasts and communications all rely heavily on satellites.
The Russians then proceeded to launch the first man into Earth orbit: Yuri Gagarin. He rode in a spaceship called Vostok 1, completed one orbit of the Earth and crash landed around 2 hours after he launched.
1961 Alan Shepard
The USA followed Russia by sending Alan Shepard, the first American, into space. Shepard was part of an elite group of 7 top fighter jet pilots and test pilots in the America. These seven guided NASA through its early tests and launches and became national heroes.
1969 Apollo 11
The Americans won the ultimate segment of the race: the moon. In 1969 three astronauts travelled further away from the Earth than anyone had ever before. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins successfully landed on the moon and arrived home safely in their space craft Apollo 11.
The first words spoken by Neil Armstrong as he made the first human step on the moon have gone down in history:
“One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."
After the Cold War the world continued in their efforts to push boundaries in the space frontier.
1981 The Shuttle
NASA decided that they wanted quick, reliable and regular access to space for astronauts. So they developed the Shuttle, a reusable space craft that is launched by a rocket and then glided back down to Earth and landed like an airplane. The fact that the shuttle was re-usable was a great step towards lowering the cost barriers to space travel.
The shuttle was used for 30 years and 135 flights before it was retired. In that time there were only two major accidents. The first was with the Challenger Shuttle where the rocket did not survive launch and the crew of seven perished. This was a major blow to moral for all of NASA and American space, and caused a long period of no space activity. Investigations found that the technical reason for the rocket to explode was due to a single rubber ring in a seal that didn’t work properly because it was so cold. The nontechnical reason for the disaster is the failure to respect technical advice and needs throughout the hierarchy and teams. It came down to communication, and NASA has since carried out an internal reform.
The second and last disaster happened in 2003 when the Columbia Shuttle did not survive re-entry. All seven crew members perished in this disaster. The technical reason came down to a faulty piece of exterior tile coming loose and breaching the wing. The non-technical reason for the disaster comes down to safety thoroughness and communication, with the issue with loose tiles being known about for years.
Ever wondered how we obtained all those beautiful images of galaxies? They’re actually photos captured by a 13.2 m × 4.2 m telescope in space called the Hubble Space Telescope. The Shuttle launched the Hubble telescope and astronauts assembled and serviced it in space. It sits in orbit around Earth taking photos of things we can’t see with our naked eye. It’s now made over 1.2 million observations and contributed directly to 12,800 scientific studies.
1998 The Space Station
One of the greatest accomplishments of the Shuttle is the creation of the International Space Station. The Shuttle delivered up components of the ISS piece by piece into space, and it was assembled by astronauts and assisted by the Canada arm. This formed the most expensive man made creation. 15 countries from around the world pooled together to build this football field sized spacecraft.
AUSTRALIA’S ROLE IN SPACE
Throughout the Cold War and the Space Race, Australia played a vital role. During this period, the space port in South Australia, Woomera, was one of the busiest spaceports in the world, with many regular sounding rockets being launched and tested from this site. Our geographic isolation made us ideal to carry out certain aspects of missions. We tested rockets and missiles for many countries in our vast and uninhabited deserts. We also became the world's space 'ear' as our isolation in the world meant that we played (and still do) a critical role in the communications from space. Many meteors have been found on our shores and even debris from spacecraft and satellites from other country's space missions have landed in Australia.
to the future
A lot has happened in a relatively short amount of time in space and space technology, so is it over now? Certainly not! The current space industry is booming with great advancement and goals- some of which you may be able to be a part of!
As a civilisation, we have constantly looked to our red neighbour with awe and curiosity. In recent years, we have done so with satellites orbiting it constantly and rovers roaming around on its surface. This is no small feat as there is at least a seven minute communications delay, a different force of gravity and no atmosphere! There are a lot of challenges to consider!
Today, NASA has landed the largest rover on Mars yet – Curiosity. The car sized rover is searching the planet looking for signs of habitability. There are many more future Mars missions planned with the European Space Agency (ESA), with one being sent soon to look for water and microbial life.
In the next 15-20 years we should have sent the first humans to Mars. There are a couple of groups working towards this including NASA and SpaceX. You could potentially be one of those astronauts with the right skills, determination and some hard work!
In the recent years there has been much development on the prospect of asteroid mining. Laws have to be changed and millions of dollars have been thrown towards making this a reality. Even so, there is still debate around the economic validity of it. Some asteroids have more valuable resources like platinum, diamonds and metals so there is plenty of motivation but the issue is that bringing it back to Earth would be so expensive; it might not be worth doing at all. It would be most valuable if we were able to use those resources in space and it had an application and some importance up there. The future will only tell!
A lot of emphasis has been put on the search for life in the universe and possibly even intelligent life. There has recently been a wealth of funds donated by the world’s most affluent tech and science leaders towards telescope time dedicated to listening out for signals from other intelligent species. This will be the most time we've ever spent on SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) and it could make to be a turning point in human history.
Another big movement in space at the moment is looking for planets that could support life as we know it. The major breakthrough in this field has been the Kepler Telescope, another telescope that is based in Earth orbit. Kepler continuously monitors thousands of stars and uses special techniques to detect planets which orbit these stars, it also determines the size of these Earth-like planets and records their orbit characteristics. They are searching for planets that are able to support liquid water which is the basis of all life we know on Earth. There is a zone around each star where the temperature of the star allows for liquid water to be present and the size of the planet allows for an atmosphere. This is called the Goldilocks zone - which is exactly where we are for our Sun! So far, Kepler has discovered 1039 planets and even an Earth like planet in the Goldilocks zone.
A recent triumph in space technology has been the successful testing of re-usable rockets by commercial companies Space X and Blue Origin. That means that a rocket can launch, release a payload into space and then come back down to Earth again by landing perfectly on it’s legs. One of the biggest struggles in this process is balancing the slim cylinders that can be as tall as 100 m, so that they don’t sway and tip over. This is a huge achievement, as in the past, rockets would disintegrate upon reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.
A spaceship that launches from an airplane made by Virgin Galactic will soon be able to take ordinary people for a joy ride in space. Pretty soon we’ll be able to be space tourists with these short flights around Earth, or with inflatable hotels in orbit made by Bigelow Space. Anyone up for a holiday to space?!
To get off the ground on Earth you need lots of thrust, which traditional chemical rockets deliver. But once you’re in space you don’t need thrust. You’re not escaping a strong force of gravity, but you need impulse. Chemical fuel just doesn't cut it for this. So there are alternatives such as nuclear and electric engines. Nuclear engines are great for long distance trips (they have been used to go to Pluto), but the engines that are currently being pushed for are electric. Ion drives work on simple principles and use similar technology to your physics cathode! NASA has been developing more and more efficient ion drives for a while, however an Australian beat all NASA records last year. Two different ion drives were created in Australia last year, one of which is ready for use and another which blew all NASA efficiencies out of the water.
THE TEAM BEHIND SPACE MISSIONS
“We stand on the shoulders of giants”
In space, and many other places in society, success is never due to one person. It’s the effect of the work and cooperation of many, even thousands of people. This is true for every single space mission.
You may think that its only scientists and engineers who are involved in a mission, but that is far from the truth. ALL skills are used to pull together a mission.
Scientists research the viability of technologies before they’re built and prove them theoretically. They then also do more science with the data from the mission and results from any tests done during the mission.
ENTREPRENEURS AND BUSINESS PEOPLE
Have a knack for business? The space industry is quickly becoming commercialised with the likes of space powers Space X and Boeing. There are lots of commercial avenues popping up, and even in government missions there needs to be a team of people making sure that budgets are met.
These guys do the technical design and testing of all of the technology for the mission. This includes the physical space ships and rockets, the software, the electronics, interfaces, astronaut seats and suits - everything.
There are a lot of costs, risks and laws that must be met for a space mission to go ahead. There is no point having great tech if your mission is breaking the law. Lawyers ensure that missions are within the law, and that they are insured for any risks.
Technicians bring the engineers work to life. They build, create and test all the physical aspects to a mission. There would be no mission without technicians, and all types of technicians for that matter.
There are countless people needed to manage and operate all facets of a mission. Large missions, like a lot of complex operations, are broken down into small bits and then sometimes those small bits are broken down into even smaller bits. All these small bits need to be organised and managed and linked to all the other bits.
All the astronauts have to undergo rigorous medical testing and surveillance. They are pushed to the limit and monitored by different types of doctors. The physical consequences of going to space on the human body are yet to be studied in depth, and there is still a lot that doctors are looking to learn.
The effect of going to space in a small area spacecraft, with few people, for a long period of time is very psychologically taxing. Psychologists are playing an increasingly important role in the selection and preparation of long distance astronauts.