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Space Race

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When studying space and exploration, there comes the realization, that every single atom in all of the earth, is negligible in proportion, compared to the unparalleled vastness of the universe at large. Humankind will never stop trying to decipher the secret codes of the universe and crack these grand mysteries. They try their best to unlock doors to make sure no possibilities are left unexplored. Some of the most significant developments of space exploration occurred during the 1960s “space race” between the feuding countries USA and Russia, a competition rooted in military, political and technological power. The world’s first artificial satellite “Sputnik”, was launched by the Soviet Union in1957, reaching a tremendous milestone that threatened the States. The USA, in retaliation, took two significant courses of action, launching their own satellite “Explorer I”, while simultaneously establishing NASA, the leading research center for aerospace technology. However, the Soviet Union was not lagging behind having made important achievements, one of which being the Luna 2, the first probe to land on the moon. In 1961, the Soviets reigned victorious once again, with their astronaut Yuri Gagarin having been the first human to orbit the earth in a space vessel dubbed Vostok 1. And almost a month later, the USA in response too sent their pilot Alan Shepard.


In the coming years, many other remarkable operations had taken place. For example, the USA carried out the first interplanetary flybys, where Mariner 2 and Mariner 4 flew by Venus and Mars respectively. And Valentina Tereshkova, from the Soviet Union, took the role of becoming the first woman to travel through space. All of these triumphs finally led to the spotlight event that is NASA’s Apollo program, the plan centered around accomplishing a successful moon landing. Apollo 11, the spacecraft that reached the moon carrying Neil Armstong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins, crowned the USA as the ultimate champions of the space wars. This was a historically massive, cultural, and global event, or as Neil Armstrong puts it “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. 


So, is the space race over then? Not exactly, in fact, now more than ever, there are more competitors to the ever-growing fight to dominate the sector of technology and space exploration. China, Japan, and India have all heavily invested in expanding their level of expertise in this matter, by increasing their number of satellites and probes. For example, China’s Chang Zheng has already launched a number of satellites for communication and surveillance purposes, and its Cheng’s 4 has already become the first to ever probe land on the far side of the moon, and its current ongoing mission Cheng’s 5 is tasked with collecting moon rocks and returning back to Earth. In 2020 China has also sent a probe to Mars, which will eject a rover onto the surface of the planet with the intention of detecting signs of life. As a matter of fact, the USA is also working on a major project, the Artemis Program, with the goal of sending a woman and a man to conduct another moon by 2024. NASA’s robots are also actively searching Mars for signs of extraterrestrial life and plans to retrieve the rock samples collected by the robots in 2030 for research purposes. The United Arab Emirates to plans on launching a probe in order to observe the Martian weather, and find an answer to explain the sudden climate change/fluctuations in Mars. Japan also took part in the numerous successful mission launches, with the Kaguya probe successfully orbiting the moon, and the Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 spacecraft being used to collect asteroid dust, as well as having sent multiple astronauts to space. India too has contributed to space exploration and research with the Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2 probes taking part in lunar explorations, India is currently establishing Gagayaan, their own Indian Human Space Flight Programme.      


In an extraordinary turn of events, private businesses are investing heavily in space exploration, beginning a new era where it is not only the government bodies that are taking significant leaps in space research. Soon to be a trillionaire, Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon has initiated his company Blue Origin in 2000 and is famous for their suborbital rocket New Shepard. They hope to eventually create suborbital space tourism which would cater to paying customers. The goal of Blue Origin is to derive “unlimited resources and energy” in order to preserve the Earth and for the flourishing of future generations of mankind. SpaceX, the company developed by Elon Musk has also achieved many praiseworthy missions, for example in 2010 they retrieved a spacecraft from low Earth orbit. They were also the inventors behind Dragon spacecraft which was able to transport cargo back and forth from the International Space Station, and they have also bragged about developing “the world’s most powerful operational rocket”, the Falcon Heavy. The main objective of this company is to “revolutionize space technology” with the target of eventually “enabling people to live on other planets”. 


Unlike during the 1960s, space travel is no longer monopolized by USA and Soviet Union governments. Now more than ever, in this new era of space exploration, the curiosity and excitement regarding these matters have gained significant momentum, with various countries, investors, private businesses operating massive missions that garnered significant results and wide-spread media coverage. Mankind’s persevering nature, and their determination to unlock the mysteries of the unknown, have led to tremendous scientific breakthroughs. And despite there being a significant lack of comprehension about the puzzling nature and physics of space, we are always getting one step closer to understanding this beast known as the universe.


Rusafa Hussain
BRAC University


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