Introduction: Sputnik's Legacy
点击量： 时间：2017-12-04 05:01:08
By Jeff Hecht in Boston The launch of the first satellite, Sputnik, on 4 October 1957 forever changed the world. New Scientist delves into the legacy of the pioneering spacecraft. The launch was the starting gun for the space race, embarrassing the US, which was even more chagrined when the rocket meant to launch its first satellite, Vanguard, blew up in front of news cameras two months later. It got its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit in early 1958. Nearly 1000 satellites now orbit the Earth, providing a wide range of applications, from communications to weather observation. Robotic spacecraft, such as Pioneer 10 and 11 and the Voyager probes, gave us our first close-ups of the gas giant planets in the outer solar system. But human spaceflight was the most celebrated result of the space race. The Soviet Union launched cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit on 12 April 1961. Like Sputnik, the Russians didn’t announce Gagarin’s fight until he was safely in orbit, but it was a brilliant success for the programme masterminded by Sergei Korolev, a veteran of the Gulag. Weeks later, the US launched Alan Shepard on a suborbital flight in full view of television cameras. The following February, John Glenn became the first American in orbit. Shortly after Shepard’s flight, President John F Kennedy said the US should put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. The space race gained public support, and NASA pushed forward with a series of successful Mercury and Gemini launches. A fire on the ground killed three astronauts testing Apollo 1, but NASA pushed onward. Apollo 8 flew around the Moon in December 1968, humanity’s first venture beyond Earth orbit. After two more test flights, NASA landed on the Moon on 20 July 1969, where Neil Armstrong took his famous “giant leap for mankind”. But the last of a dozen men walked on the Moon in December 1972 after President Richard Nixon cancelled further Apollo missions in order to build the space shuttle. The first shuttle reached orbit on 12 April 1981, the 20th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight, and brought the spectacular experience of spaceflight even more into the public eye. Its heavy-lift capacity was crucial for getting big spacecraft into orbit. It delivered the Hubble Space Telescope to orbit in 1990, and three years later carried a repair mission that fixed the defects that initially gave Hubble blurry vision – one of many daring space rescues. Humans have also been spending increasingly long periods of time in space. The Soviet Union launched a series of Salyut space stations in the 1970s and early 1980s and orbited the first module of its Mir Space Station on 19 February 1986, just three weeks after the Challenger disaster. Mir remained in orbit until 2001. By then, Russia had partnered with the US and other countries on the International Space Station, which is still under construction and critically dependent on the shuttle. Now, NASA has decided to once again move beyond Earth orbit, vowing to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars. With the shuttle set to be grounded in 2010, NASA is developing new rockets and spacecraft for the job. Meanwhile, some children of the Apollo era have accumulated fortunes they want to spend in space. About $20 million buys a visit to the International Space Station. Private spacecraft have reached the edge of space, and a new generation are being developed for space tourism. What’s next for space? Robotic spacecraft are on their way to Mercury and Pluto. Where will robots go next? Will humans ultimately colonise other planets and possibly the whole universe? What kind of rockets could carry us beyond the solar system?