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The History of Space Exploration - a timeline of mankind's journey into space.

The history of space exploration, as well as mankind’s fascination with the universe around us dates back thousands of years. Ancient Babylonian astronomers studied the motion of the sun and stars for hundreds of years, and were the inventors of the Babylonian calendar. Astronomers of ancient Egypt used their observations to tell time and to determine direction. Italian scientist, inventor, and astronomer Galileo Galilei was the first person to see the moon and stars through a telescope. Although he did not invent the telescope, his improvements to it allowed him to see the moon’s craters and Jupiter’s moons.

The History of Space Exploration and the Advancement of Rocketry

The ancient Chinese contributed to the history of space exploration too. Ancient Chinese revelers liked to build noise makers by filling bamboo stems with simple gun powder, probably made from a mixture of charcoal, saltpeter and sulfur. Thrown into a fire, these early “firecrackers” would explode with a bang. It is conceivable that instead of exploding, one of the bamboo tubes took flight, propelled by the escaping gasses from the burning gun powder. Maybe the invention of the rocket was purely accidental.

At some point, the Chinese started experimenting with these gunpowder filled bamboo tubes attached to sticks to propel them through the air. These were precursors to today’s fantastic fireworks displays, as well as military weapons. The first recorded use of rocket propelled weapons was during a battle at Kai Keng between the Mongols and the Chinese in 1232. The Chinese were able to repel the Mongol invaders with the use of rocket propelled arrows. It was probably due more to the psychological affect of these fiery arrows than with the accuracy of their flight. Following this battle, the Mongols began building their own rocket powered arrows, and most likely were responsible for the spread of rocketry to Europe.

An English Monk by the name of Roger Bacon’s improvement of gunpowder led to extended range. By the 16th century, rockets were used mainly for fireworks displays. Johann Schmidlap invented the step rocket. This was a multi-stage rocket designed to lift fireworks higher in the sky. A large rocket carried a smaller rocket. When the large (first stage) rocket burned out, the second (second stage) flew further into the sky. This “step rocket” technology is still used in sending rockets into space today.

The Use of Rockets and the History of Space Exploration

The history of space exploration took a huge leap forward when In 1898, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed using rocketry for exploring space. His published a report in 1903 suggesting that liquid propellants be used for the rocket in order to achieve greater range. He theorized that only the velocity of the escaping gasses would limit the rocket’s speed and range. Due to his careful research into his ideas, Tsiolkovsky has been called the father of astronautics.

American Robert Goddard experimented with rocketry. From his tests, Goddard concluded that rockets would operate more efficiently in a vacuum than in normal air. This was in contrast to prevailing belief that the rocket needed air to thrust against. His experiments in liquid propellant rockets continued for many years. He built bigger rockets, and flew them farther. He added gyroscopes for control and space for scientific instruments. His rockets and instruments returned safely to the ground by parachute systems. For his achievements, Goddard has been called the father of modern rocketry.

Hermann Oberth enrolled in the University of Munich in 1912 to study medicine. This academic endeavor was interrupted, however, by World War I, in which Oberth participated as a medic in the German army. At the end of the war, he again enrolled at Munich, only this time he studied physics. His extreme interest in rocketry was ignited as a child from reading Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon”, a gift from his mother. By age 14, he had already theorized about a “recoil rocket” propelled by the pressure of gasses exhausting from the combustion of liquid fuel. Knowing that as the fuel was expended the rocket would lose thrust, so his answer was rocket stages. A larger rocket carrying one or more incrementally smaller rockets. When the larger rockets fuel was spent, it would just be expelled, and the next would carry it onward. Oberth took on a young assistant by the name of Wernher von Braun, a man who would become one of the leading rocket scientists for Germany, and later, The United States. During World War II, they worked together along with Walter Dornberger to develop Germany’s V-2 Rocket, the secret weapon the German Army would use to attack Britain. These rockets were propelled by liquid fuel, measured 47 feet in length and could fly at an altitude of over 50 miles. Once launched, these rockets were virtually unstoppable. They were responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths and over 6,000 injuries.

After WWII, Oberth and Wernher von Braun worked together again in The United States for the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Missile Agency in Alabama. The individuals mentioned in this paragraph contributed greatly to the history of space exploration.

The Space Race and the History of Space Exploration

During the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union worked with great resolve to achieve military superiority, leading to the mass build up of long range rockets (missiles) such as ICBMs. During this same period, a race was building in the quest to conquer space. On October 4th, 1957, Sputnik became the first man made satellite to orbit the earth. This was a monumental achievement in the history of space exploration and by the Soviet space exploration program. Vostock 1carried Soviet cosmonaut Lt. Yuri Gargarin to the first human orbit of the earth on April 12th 1961.

Explorer 1 became the United State’s first satellite to reach orbit on January 31st, 1958. Alan Sheppard was the first American astronaut to go into space in 1961, and the following year on February 20th, John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. “One giant step for mankind” was heard around the world on July 20th, 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon.

Another milestone in the history of space exploration was the space shuttle. The space shuttle Columbia launched in April 1981 to become the first reusable space vehicle. Twenty four successful flights of the fleet of space shuttles were launched to perform various missions, both civilian and military, until the tragic explosion of Challenger. After the Challenger disaster, many changes in the shuttle program were made in order to provide for better safety for the shuttles and their astronauts.

Although the shuttle program continues, the 2003 loss of Columbia and her crew places new emphases on building the next generation of space vehicles as the history of space exploration continues.

President Bush has set goals of returning to the moon, as well as the first manned visit to Mars.

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