Elizabeth, a Licensed Massage Therapist, has a Master's in Zoology from North Carolina State, one in GIS from Florida State University, and a Bachelor's in Biology from Eastern Michigan University. She has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.
A Brief History of Space Travel
'That's one small step for man...one giant leap for mankind.' These famous words were spoken by astronaut Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon in 1969 - the first person to ever do so. The Apollo 11 mission that took Armstrong and his fellow astronauts to the moon was a landmark event, but space travel actually began many years before.
Almost 30 years earlier, in 1942, the German V2 rocket was the first to reach the official boundary of space. A few years later, in 1947, the first animals were sent into space - these were fruit flies! Scientists tested the effects of space travel on these fruit flies because the effects on their bodies could tell them a lot about the effects that would likely occur with other animals. A few years later, in 1949, the first monkey (named 'Albert II') was sent into space.
Then, in 1957, the first satellite was launched into orbit. This was the Russian satellite Sputnik I. This was a major accomplishment, and we now have over 500 satellites orbiting Earth! This same year saw the first animal orbit of Earth. The Russian satellite Sputnik II carried a dog named Laika, who provided a lot of information about how space travel would affect humans.
In the early 1960s, Russia sent the first humans into space - the first man in 1961 followed by the first woman in 1963. The Americans were hot on their heels though, and sent a robot spaceship up in 1966 to make sure a moon landing would be safe for our own astronauts. A few short years later came that fateful day of the first moon landing, an event that captivated the world.
Obviously, space travel did not stop in 1969. Since then, there have been many more trips to space and the moon, as well as orbits around Earth. Our fascination with the universe beyond our own planet is as limitless as the universe itself. Technology and science have even allowed us to land on and explore Mars - a feat barely imaginable when space travel first began decades ago.
Benefits of Space Exploration
You are likely familiar with NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They are the U.S. government agency that's in charge of the space program and conducts space research. It sounds like a lot of fun to travel to space, but it's also important to collect information about space, Earth, and general aviation during these missions.
Have you heard the phrase 'necessity is the mother of invention'? NASA is far too familiar with this! Astronauts can't just get into a spaceship and fly into space. Many precautions need to be taken - from the foods they eat to the materials their suits are made of. Because of these challenges, many new inventions have come about just from space travel preparations. Teflon, microwave ovens, and freeze-dried foods are just a few examples, but much of our modern technology has roots in inventions for space travel.
We can also learn a lot about human biology in micro-gravity environments through space exploration. By studying astronauts who live on the space station, we can gain an understanding of the effects of space travel on their health and bodies. Astronauts are vulnerable to many types of injuries and illnesses, so it's important to learn more about these issues.
Space travel has also expanded our knowledge base about Earth itself. Through space travel and research, we have learned much about the holes in the ozone layer, how solar power can be more effectively utilized, atmospheric conditions, and more.
Risks of Space Travel
There are, of course, two sides to every story, and space travel certainly does not come without risk. I have already alluded to one major risk - human health. Our bodies have a difficult time adjusting to micro-gravity environments, and astronauts' limited use of bones and muscles while in space can damage these vital tissues. Humans traveling in space are also at great risk for barotrauma, decompression sickness (also known as 'the bends'), and immune system issues.
The atmosphere on Earth provides a large amount of protection from cosmic radiation, but without an atmosphere surrounding us, we are much more susceptible to this danger. This is one reason that space travel by humans to places like Mars would be very dangerous to our health. Astronauts traveling this far would be at a much greater risk for dangerous radiation exposure, which can lead to various diseases like cancer.
In addition to human health issues, we also create an incredible amount of cosmic garbage every time we travel to space. Many of these items end up orbiting the Earth, but much of it gets 'lost' in space. Not only do we not want to create a 'space landfill' outside of Earth, but this floating debris can also collide with space crafts and satellites and do major damage.
Finally, space exploration is pretty darn expensive. Many feel that the benefits far outweigh the costs - we learn about space and Earth, and you can't put a price on that knowledge. Additionally, the space program creates jobs for researchers, engineers, and technicians here on Earth. But there are others who feel that the costs are not worth what we get in return. Training astronauts, building rockets, fueling spaceships, and damages to human health are all costly in their own right, and some feel that the money would be better spent elsewhere.
Humans are fascinated with what's beyond our world. For decades, we have been sending rockets, satellites, animals, and people into space to learn about our own planet, as well as what lies beyond. Space travel is beneficial in that it has led to many new technologies, provides information about Earth's atmosphere, helps us understand our own biology, and may assist with more efficient harnessing of solar power.
But space exploration is not perfect. Some believe that space travel is too expensive. Others are concerned about human health issues because astronauts are subject to bone and muscle loss, as well as an increased exposure to radiation.
Because humans are so driven to understand the mysteries of outer space, we continue to push ourselves farther into it. From the Earth-space boundary, to the moon, and now to Mars, it seems that the possibilities of our explorations are only limited by our imaginations.
Finishing this lesson should prepare you to:
- Summarize the history of space travel
- Describe the pros and cons of space travel
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