By YeonWoo Lee (’21)
Ever since I was little, I have had the pleasure of exploring the billions of possibilities that my future would bring. In the short, yet long seventeen years of my life, I have dreamed about my future on Earth. A beautiful princess, a confident lawyer, and even the hottest pop singer to have ever existed. Yet, there was a time where I wanted to go up and beyond. Beyond all the things that we knew of this world. I wanted to be an astronaut. It isn’t my dream anymore, but it never stopped my curiosity of what lies beyond infinity. According to encyclopedia.com, space is “the three dimensional extension in which all things exist and move.” It is essentially a vacuum filled with billions of stars, planets, galaxies, and the unknown. We will never be able to find all of the unknowns, however, we can lessen the amount. And we have done so through space exploration. I’ll be starting off our launch with the beginnings of space exploration, navigate our way through space exploration today, before arriving at our final destination with the impact of space on society.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first satellite to make a complete orbit around the Earth. According to history.com, this came as a shock to many Americans as the United States had been considered the global leader in technological advancements. Threatened by the Soviet Union, the United States legislative created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA. NASA’s job was to continue to improve in space exploration through technological advancements. This rivalry sparked an interest in the global population on space exploration. And this is how the great Space Race of the 1950s-1970s began. The Soviet Union was successful with the detection of solar wind, putting the first human in space, first crewed flight, and the first landing of a spacecraft on another celestial body and the planet Venus. Some of the United States success was launching several different types of satellites, first Mars flyby, and first extravehicular activity. However, the thrilling Space Race came to an end when Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.
But just because the Space Race came to an end, doesn’t mean that space exploration came to a complete stop. Although it is hard to believe, the turning point of astronomy came after the Space Race. Astronomers had used the naked eye for observations of the universe until Galileo had pointed his telescope at the sky. But in 1990, NASA launched the Hubble Telescope. According to nasa.gov, the Hubble Telescope has taken more than 1.3 million observations since 1990, with its collected data being used and cited around 750,000 times in scientific papers, making it one of the most useful scientific tools ever created.
Even today, there are more advancements made daily. There was an experiment with twins Scott and Mark Kelly to see the long term health effects of being in space. There were changes to Scott Kelly’s DNA, but according to NASA, nothing drastic. In December 2018, NASA faced its 7 minutes of terror with its Insight probe. Stated by the BBC, these seven minutes is the time it takes for a probe to land on Mars safely. Insight is made up of equipment that will determine the internal structure of Mars. But there have been failures as well. NASA started the first teacher in space mission. After choosing Christa McAuliffe, the space shuttle Challenger exploded on its way up. Recently, after Mars’ dust storm in June of 2018, one of NASA rovers, Opportunity has been out of contact.
Not only has space opened a door to the universe that surrounds us, it has caused many impacts on society today. From movies to conspiracy theories, the topic of space has become such a cultural phenomenon that stays with us today. Space has been used as a background in literature and film so often, that a new genre has been formed from it: space opera. According to Merriam-Webster, space opera is a futuristic melodramatic fantasy involving space travelers and extraterrestrial beings. There has been a plethora of movies that falls under the space opera genre. Two of the most popular space opera movies that continue to be a classic today is the Skywalker saga of Star Wars and Star Trek. The action sequences, along with extra-terrestrial creatures had sparked an interest in many people. Extra-terrestrials have not only been a significant part of space movies, but they have been a popular form of conspiracy theories. Stories of unidentified flying objects, or UFOS, carrying strange beings have caused quite the stir. One example is the Roswell UFO Incident in New Mexico in 1947. After a strange object fell from the sky, federal agent Jesse A. Marcel was sent to investigate the crash. He had come across metal unlike anything he had seen before. His and others testimonies sparked the creation of an image of UFO that is commonly used today, along with stories of possible alien life.
But the human imagination was not the only thing influenced by space. According to business insider, there are some inventions that exist because of technology used in space exploration. Some inventions include artificial limbs, cell phone cameras, MRI and CAT scans, adjustable smoke detectors, and water filters, typically used in pools.
So now that we have covered the journey on the beginnings of space exploration, discoveries that are being made today, and the huge impact space has had on our society, it is time to reflect on the great things space can bring. Although space exploration is no longer on center stage, it does not prevent people from going outdoors to see meteor showers, eclipses, and special events that happen every century or so. And when we look up at the night sky, beyond the moon and the stars, think about what new things await us. But we can’t just think about the endless possibilities that are hiding out there. We have to explore it. As former President John F. Kennedy once said about the reason for exploring space, “Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”