The invention of rocket was a revolutionary step in the field of space travel and research. The modern space research can be said to have begun with the launching of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, into space by Russia in 1957. Sputnik 2 sent in the same year carried a dog named Laika. It successfully supplied valuable data for a week, after which the radio transmitter of the satellite suddenly stopped transmitting signals to the earth. It was a milestone in the space research programme. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin, of the then Soviet Union, became the first man to go into space and orbit round the earth. This was followed by American space launches carrying men and other living beings. In 1969, a Russian spaceship passed by the moon within a distance of about 6500 kms. Then was launched Lunik III, which landed on the moon. In the same year U.S.A. sent its Ranger 7 to the moon. These were spectacular achievements heralding an era of miraculous feats in space travel, technology and research. In July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to land on the moon. He was later joined by his colleague astronaut Edwin Aldine.
They reached the moon on board the spaceship Apollo-11 and spent 21 hours on its surface, collecting rock and soil samples and then safely and triumphantly returned to the earth to the great wonder, awe and exultation of the whole world. Then again in November 1969 the American scientists repeated this feat by landing Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon and Alan Bean on the moon on board the spaceship Apollo-12. They returned to the earth after spending 32 hours on the moon, which is our nearest neighbour, at a distance of about 380,000 km. The Americans again landed on the moon for the third time in 1971 in their spaceship Apollo-14. Then Apollo-15 landed for the fourth time on the moon.
But it was just the beginning of a brilliant saga of space travel and research. The conquest of the moon is not enough as man’s search into the unknown knows no limits. And so flights to other planets began. The Americans launched
Pioneer I in March 1972 on a 21-month mission into space past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. It was the first man-made object to travel the solar system. Since man’s first landing on the moon, there have been scores of space flights by the U.S. and the then U.S.S.R., marking a beginning of a bold, new and dynamic era. In 1978, the Russian scientists sent the first international crew in space, consisting of a Russian and a Czech cosmonaut. In 1979, the Soviet cosmonauts succeeded in growing onion sprouts on board Salyut 6. In 1977, the U.S. launched Voyager I to probe the outer space and the solar system. The Voyager II was sent into space the same year, past the planet Saturn.
Columbia, the first space shuttle, was launched by America on April 12, 1981 and returned to the earth after 54 hours in space. Unfortunately, on February 1, 2003 Columbia space- shuttle exploded in mid-air, just minutes before landing while returning from a successful space voyage, killing all its crew members. Columbia was a multipurpose and reusable spacecraft which took-off like a rocket. It could be used both as a satellite and a glider. It was used to launch satellites, contact, retrieve, and repair spacecrafts in the orbit. The U.S. spaceship Pioneer 10 was launched in June 1983 to travel to the stars past the planets and the sun. In 1984, the space shuttle Challenger became the first spaceship to retrieve and repair an ailing solar satellite in April, 1984.
The end of the Cold War has ushered in a new era of space co-operation, research and technology. It has also removed the dangers of space weapons and the star wars to a great extent. Now, the possibilities of world destruction through space weapons like missiles, etc. have receded because of this understanding between the two superpowers of the world. It ensures the use of space for peaceful purposes only, at least, for the time being.
On March 16, 1995, the Soyuz capsule launched by the Russians docked with the orbiting Russian space station Mir. This space capsule carried a U.S. astronaut, Norman Haggard. Space station Mir had been in orbit for 9 years but it was for the first time that an American astronaut was transported to a Russian space station in a Russian space capsule. Soon the U.S. space shuttle, Discovery, also docked with Mir. This paved the way for the proposed joint mission to Mars in the future. This co-operation in the field of space research between America and Russia is really welcome. It now seems certain that the day is not far when the combined efforts of Russia and America will achieve the goal of permanent human settlement on the moon and landing of man on Mars. Cooperation in space technology can further boost the unmanned explorations of the solar system and beyond.