On April 12, 1961, the era of human spaceflight began when the Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth in the Vostok I spacecraft. The flight lasted 108 minutes. Twenty years later, on the morning of April 12, 1981, two astronauts sat strapped into their seats on the flight deck of Columbia, a radically new spacecraft known as the space shuttle.
In the years following Yuri Gagarin’s first spaceflight, over 500 people from almost 40 countries have flown into space. New opportunities in space were created in the year 2000 when the first crew boarded the International Space Station (ISS), a joint space project involving 15 countries.
Since the start of its operation, the ISS has gradually turned into a huge laboratory in near-Earth space.
In spite of more than 50 years of space exploration, there remains much skepticism and doubt about humankind’s need to invest into space. Why explore space? Every time something amazing is accomplished in space, someone will make the comment “Why spend so much money, time, and effort in space or on Mars or in orbit when there are many equally important issues here on Earth, such as poverty, disease, and famine?’
The space industry is not a financial black hole; no agency launches a bucket with cash into space. The majority of the money spent on space exploration goes toward the salaries which pay thousands of skilled workers who make each mission successful. This industry creates diverse jobs all over the world, supports scientific research at various universities, and helps people to stay employed. Moreover, rough calculation shows that, on average, the expenses for space exploration cost approximately $5 to every person living on Earth (or 0.05% of world GDP per year).
Space exploration stimulates the creation of many tangible and intangible benefits for humanity. New devices and services enter the global marketplace as a direct result of innovations within the space industry. Space exploration leads to advances in science and technology; it furthers workforce development and pushes industrial capabilities, thus leading to an overall stimulation of private companies;all of which contributes significantly to the economic progress of space‐faring nations. Space exploration is known to attract young people into careers in science and technology, adding to the general benefit of society and the economy.
Exploring space has several intangible effects. Due to its inherent social and philosophical dimensions, delving into the unknown helps us to address the nature and meaning of human life. This leads to more enriched cultures, more inspired citizens, and greater international understanding as a result of cooperation among space‐faring nations.
To be a human is to be an explorer – reaching into space is but an expansion of a basic human nature ingrained deep within us since the first tribes left the African savanna and spread into Europe and Asia. Our ancestors had a need to explore the unknown. Now, humans have visited or settled every corner of the globe. The instinct to explore is still active, but there are very few outlets. Some people seek out extreme or exotic places to satisfy this need, others look to the skies. It may be an old cliche, but Star Trek had it right: Space is the Final Frontier, and it calls to the Explorer in all of us.
Today it seems even more important to pause and think for a few moments why we haven’t been inspired lately. Now more than ever we need, as a global community, something to dream about. Something to look forward to as our future unfolds. Space exploration is that unifying factor.