October 4th 1957 was the day the Space Race finally became a reality. 59 years later, we’re heading to Mars.
During the Cold War, the USA and USSR were locked in a feud which not only involved spies and covert operations. The superpowers were aiming to make it to space, and dominate the rise in technological advancement.
Ultimately the Russians began the Space era, by launching their basketball-sized satellite Sputnik I and causing fear amongst the American public, who believed that the Russians could use their technology for warfare.
The USA’s response to this event was to step up production of their own satellites, sending up their first satellite in January 1958: the Explorer I. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was also set up as a direct result of the Sputnik launch.
The next step was the Moon. The Soviet Union sent numerous unmanned spacecraft called Luna to the moon, aiming to both orbit and do controlled soft landings, but the USA became the first superpower to reach new heights in the Space Race.
Apollo 11, led by astronaut Neil Armstrong touched down on the Moon’s surface on July 20th. This was the first manned mission to explore the Moon’s surface. The USA ended their manned missions in 1972, with Apollo 17. The fall of the Soviet Union ended the space race, which is now more about exploration and possibilities.
The current focus is The Red Planet – Mars. Long have scientists considered the option of Mars as a planet humans could colonise, with NASA being at the forefront of exploration efforts. Various landers have been deployed to the planet, with later findings showing potential life and signs of water.
Step up Elon Musk. Born in South Africa and a supremely successful business magnate, Musk set up SpaceX to continue the exploration of space. His latest announcement has stunned the world, as Musk intends to start the colonisation process of Mars from as early as 2022. He plans to use reusable rockets and a multi-stage launch system to land on Mars.
Musk estimates that currently it would cost around 10 billion dollars per person to travel to the Red Planet, but he aims to bring down the cost to around $100 000 dollars in the future.
During his speech at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, Musk outlined his vision for the human race.
“One is that we stay on Earth forever and then there will be an inevitable extinction event,” he said. “The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilization, and a multi-planetary species.”