4000 years ago, a calendar was created in India, based on observations of the changing and repeating patterns in the sky. An object has just been discovered in the North of the British isles that may be of the same purpose and of about the same age, or even older. At about the same time, a catalog of visible stars was first created in China.
3000 years ago, in ancient Babylon, a circle had been divided into 360 slices and an hour – into 60 minutes. Think of that next time you look at an analog clock.
2000 years ago, Egypt had identified the Polar Star and built those Pyramids aligning to certain constellations. In Greece, the beginnings of geometry emerged from the circles, ellipses, and triangulations of the orbits. Meanwhile, ancient Rome had created what we now know as the Julian Calendar, where Julius and Augustus got the equal number of days we are so grateful for every summer.
1500 years ago, the tilt of the Earth’s axes had been calculated in Persia. This explains the long winter nights of the North, as well as the miracle of summer’s white nights.
600 years ago, Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy began every one of its three books with a look up at the sky and ended each one with the word “Stelle,” meaning – a star. At about the same time, Leonardo Da Vinci had a hand in defining the Moon as a planet shining simply as a reflection of the Sun, rather than by its own light.
500 years ago, Nikolay Kopernik had established his heliocentric theory. Giordano Bruno had to die holding it up, burned at the stake. Galileo Galilei, a much more diplomatic man during only slightly less rigid times 400 years ago, managed to survive and build upon it. Johannes Kepler has come up with his 3 laws on that foundation, and from there – Sir Isaac Newton had explained all the apples falling off apple trees for us.
100 years ago, as Jules Verne made his brilliant predictions on Outer Space and traveling From the Earth to the Moon in his novels, a Russian school math teacher Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy has developed the theory that we now refer to as rocket science. This is roughly where the Dreamers’ phase of space explorations ends, and the Explorers take over.
XX Century was all about getting up to space. Sergey Korolev, a Soviet aerospace engineer, almost died in Gulag and worked mostly out of a jail, but the first humanmade satellite he built went up to its orbit successfully in 1957. Two dogs, Belka and Strelka, were sent up next with a rocket and returned safely home. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot turned cosmonaut, became the first human to circle the Earth’s orbit in space. In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova, another hero from Soviet Russia, has become the first woman in space. In 1965, Alexei Leonov, also Russian, pushed off and out into the open universe outside of the spacecraft for humankind’s first spacewalk. In 1966, the first landing on the Moon by the US followed, and Neil Armstrong took his historic “small step” on a stellar object that wasn’t the Earth, in 1969.
Last century was all about heavy rockets, powerful engines, dangerous fuels – to carry humans into space. A feat of this scale and proportion could only be handled by powerful states, over many decades, with truly astronomical costs, great secrecy, and no hope or reason for anything like the ROI.
XXI century has started on a parallel path with SpaceX launching the first private space mission. Since 2010, this and similar efforts have enabled a completely new stage of exploration – a Practical one. Now, we get the Sun to produce energy for use on the ground through solar panels. Telecom satellites orbiting the Earth provide voice, video, and internet connectivity to us across the world. A share of a Latin American company may be purchased by an Asian investor through a European broker on an American stock exchange, with the transaction, money, and ownership transfer verified by Blockchain technology beaming up and down between the Earth’s continents and a satellite in space faster than a blink of a human eye. Globalization has entered the phase of a single continuous space of economic activity that includes dry land, ocean’s water, aerial atmosphere, and open space well beyond our planet’s surface. And it’s all connected!
In the near future, a set of Breakthrough initiatives are expected to bring results using a completely new and radically transformed approach to space exploration. No rockets, no engines, no limitations need to be imposed by rather particular needs of human bodies traveling through space. Based on the works of Stephen Hawking, the technology giants such as Google and Facebook have been brought together by Yuri Milner, a mathematician, and financier, to pursue five distinct missions. Breakthrough Starshot sends Nanoparticles into space, driven by the energy of light sails. Breakthrough Listen is looking for any and all kinds of signals of life in the universe. Breakthrough Message is working on answering the question of what, if anything, we should let the universe know about ourselves, considering the possible risks involved. Breakthrough Watch is focused on a search of planets similar to ours. Breakthrough Enceladus is learning more about one of Saturn’s moons that is covered in ice with a warm ocean apparently underneath it. That isn’t H2O, and we need to know a lot more about it, through a remote work set up of sorts! Most recently, something resembling water has been discovered on the Moon. One cubic meter of the Sahara desert’s sand has a thousand times more water than what’s been found there, but it’s a start.
Humanity has gone from dreaming to exploring, from science to business, from theory to practice, from mega to nano, and didn’t seem to even notice the transition. Space is now firmly part of our daily lives, healthcare to agriculture to education, proving that in spite of ourselves, we are growing closer together, connected stronger than ever.
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