For hundreds of thousands of years, humanity has wondered and pondered over outer space. The sun and moon gave way to how we tell time; the stars were used to discern location and then used to determine astrology. Since the beginning of civilization, the moon, the sun, and the stars have been perplexing and intriguing points of conversation and life. However, humans had yet to discover or develop the technology needed to learn more.
The first development came in the form of telescopes in 1608. With the first use of the telescope to explore space, Galileo discovered four satellites (large moons) of Jupiter. In 1672, improvements were made to the telescope by Newton, creating the first reflector telescope. It would be another 200 years before the telescope was improved further.
Over the last six decades, humankind has made extraordinary strides in space exploration. More research, progress, and development of space exploration has been made in the previous 60 years than in the entire history of humankind. The reality of it all is quite incredible.
It all began in 1961 when Albert II became the first monkey in space– 134 km– past the Karman line of 100km, the designated beginning of space. By 1962, the space race began. Sputnik 1 gave the Soviet Union the lead, and Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, seemed to solidify their dominance. However, America was not far behind. In 1969, America won the space race with Neil Armstrong taking the first human steps on the surface of the moon.
In 1981, twenty years after the first monkey took to space, Space Shuttle STS-1 took to spaceflight. In 1983, Sally K. Ride became the first American woman to fly in space. After a tragic accident, the space shuttle was taken out of commission until 1988 when the shuttle returned and completed a total of 87 missions.
Two decades later, humankind set their sights on the planet Mars. Spirit, a NASA rover, landed on Mars in 2004, where it found signs of past water and geothermal activity. 8 years later, Curiosity (a follow-up rover) landed on the surface and found evidence of an old lakebed. Chemical analysis and radiometric dating of the lakebed led researchers and scientists to believe that there had been at least some sort of microbial life on Mars between 700 million and 3.1 billion years ago.
Whether due to the exciting prospect of life on Mars or perhaps because of humankind’s unquenchable curiosity, SETI was established as an international mission to discover extraterrestrial life using space and ground telescopes like Hubble to find traces of habitable planets. Recent findings have revealed many habitable planets in our universe.
The future of space exploration is relatively unknown. What discoveries await are a mystery– a mystery humankind won’t quit studying. Humanity has never stopped progressing and most likely never will.