The Exploration of Space as a Project of Humanity

Roundup
tags: NASA, space program, space

The exploration of space began with national rivalries at the time of Sputnik, but since about Apollo-Soyuz (1975) it has become an international project.  Besides NASA’s Perseverance on Mars since February 18, China has Tianwen-1 (Questions to Heaven-1) about to touch down, and the United Arab Emirates has Misabar Al Amal (Hope) on the way.  Perseverance itself required radio relay stations in California, Spain, and Australia.  NASA is partner with the European Space Agency, now comprising 22 nations, which is planning a follow-up mission to pick up the precious rock samples that may settle the question of life on a second planet.

The International Space Station (operational 2000) is a joint project of NASA (U.S.A.), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada).  Some 242 astronauts, cosmonauts, and space tourists from 19 different countries have visited the space station, including 152 Americans, 49 Russians, 9 Japanese, 8 Canadians, and 5 Italians.  In the inevitable disasters, some have paid with their lives for their reach toward the stars.  In the shuttle Columbia disaster (2003), Ilan Ramon of Israel was one of them.

When, after Columbia, the shuttles were retired, Russia supplied the space station with its Energia rockets from Baikonur.  From the very beginning, scientific data from these missions, as by Venera and Mariner to Venus, were instantly shared with all nations. The same cooperation that has been customary among astronomers has characterized space exploration.  Astronomy, too, is an international project.  Knowledge is shared.

Nationalism is still a threat to the joint enterprise.  The U.S. Space Command (1985; reestablished, 2019) plans for war in space, barely within the international legal limits of the U.N. Outer Space Treaty (1967).  So far, no nuclear or conventional weapons are emplaced there, but “defense” could in a crisis easily escalate into offense.  We are in a race between catastrophe and education, as H.G. Wells said.

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