Saturday, April 13, 2013

Anniversaries of exploration in SPAAAACE!

And more intriguing anniversaries almost slip by me. Today, April 12th, is one of those interesting days in space exploration. A day of firsts.

Yuri Gagarin Statue in
In 1961. The first human entered the orbit of the Earth, and proceeded to go for a spin, heading once around. And he even returned home, alive. It was another major step for human space travel and exploration. And with everything that came, every new accomplishment, every new wonder, Yuri Gagarin, Soviet cosmonaut, was first.

Aboard Vostok 1, he was launched into space and history. Then he was kept grounded, to prevent him from being lost on another mission. He was an important symbol. But he worked hard in the Soviet space program to prepare and aid future space travelers. More than just a symbol to the Soviet Union, he is another of humanity's adventurers, inspiring many many more, and bookmarking one more human achievement.

STS-1 Mission Patch
Then, in 1981, STS-1 was launched from Kennedy Space Center. STS, or Space Transport System, means the U.S. space shuttle program. This was first launch of a space shuttle, the Columbia.

This was mostly a test flight of the new shuttle technology, a shakedown cruise. Two astronauts were sent up, Young and Crippen. John Young was a veteran at the time of the space program. He'd served on the Gemini 3 mission as pilot, and commanded Gemini 10. Then he flew the command module for Apollo 10, and commanded the Apollo 16 mission, walking on the moon. Robert Crippen was a "rookie" at the time, having entered the space program as manned missions were ending. He did work as support for Skylab. This would be his first chance, and all the other newer astronauts chances to fly and work in space.

And it was the beginning of a new era. And like the last manned era it had it's high and low points, success and tragedy. But like all exploration and advancement, a choice is made to accept risk and danger.

Sadly, the era did come to an end. But it needed to at some point. Shuttle technology needed to be overtaken by something newer, and it has not been. I know for years I've watched new designs come up as the next advance, then fade away. We need to be willing to make the investment in a new reusable transport. But since the 80's it seems nothing has been good enough, or worth the expense.

Maybe commercial transport is the future, but I have to think that exploration isn't over. I think we have more bookmarks to lay after Gagarin's still.

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