The Space Age is a contemporary period encompassing the activities related to the Space Race, space exploration, space technology, and the cultural developments influenced by these events. The Space Age lasted from about 1957 to 1986.
The Space Age began with the development of several technologies that culminated on October 4
, with the launch of Sputnik 1
by the Soviet Union
. This was the world's first artificial satellite, orbiting the Earth in 98.1 minutes and weighting in at 83 kg. The launch of Sputnik 1 ushered a new era of political, scientific and technological achievements that became known as the Space Age.
The Space Age was characterized by rapid development of new technology in a close race mostly between the USA and the Soviet Union. Rapid advances were made in rocketry, materials science, computers and other areas. Much of the technology originally developed for space applications has been spun off and found other uses.
The Space Age reached its peak with the Apollo program which captured the imagination of much of the world's population. The landing of Apollo 11 was an event watched by over 500 million people around the world and is widely recognized as one of the defining moments of the 20th century. Since then and with the end of the space race due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, public attention has largely moved to other areas.
During the 1990s funding for space related programs fell sharply as the Soviet Union disintegrated and NASA no longer had any direct competition. Also, public perception of the dangers and cost of space exploration in the USA was greatly affected by the Challenger disaster in 1986.
Since then participation in space launches have increasingly widened to more governments and commercial interests. Since the 1990s, the current period has more often been referred to as the Information Age rather than the Space Age, since space exploration and space-related technologies are no longer felt to be commonplace by significant portions of the public.
In the early 21st century, the Ansari X Prize
competition was set up to help jump start private spaceflight
which was won by Space Ship One
in 2004, becoming the first spaceship not funded by a government agency.
Several countries now have space programs; from related technology ventures to full fledge space programs with launch facilities. There are many scientific and commercial satellites in use today, with a total of hundreds of satellites in orbit and several countries have plans to send humans in space.
Chronology of the Space Age
- October 4, 1957. Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite is launched by the Soviet Union.
- October 7, 1959. Luna 3 takes the first pictures of the 'dark side of the moon' and transmits them back to Earth.
- April 12, 1961. Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space.
- March 18, 1965. Alexey Leonov makes the first 'spacewalk' during the Voskhod 2 mission.
- December 21-27, 1968. The crew of Apollo 8 becomes the first humans to leave the Earth's influence, and orbit another world, the Moon. First spacecraft to perform a Trans Earth Injection (TEI) maneuver.
- July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, becomes the first human being to walk on the Moon.
- April 19, 1971. Salyut 1 is launched, becoming the first space station.
- December 3, 1973. Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to make direct observations of Jupiter, and was the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt.
- July 20, 1976. Viking 1 lands on Mars and transmits pictures from the surface.
- April 12, 1981. The first reusable space ship, the Space Shuttle is launched for the first time.
- February 19, 1986. The first long duration space station, Mir, is launched. Staying in orbit for over 15 years, occupants set several records in human space endurance.
- February 14, 1990. Voyager 1 takes the first photograph of the whole solar system.
- April 24, 1990. The first large space telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope is launched into orbit.
- November 2, 2000. The first resident crew enters the International Space Station, a large space station designed as a human habitat.
- September 2008. China performs their first space walk, three men total exiting their spacecraft.
The Space Age might also be considered to have begun much earlier than October 4, 1957, because on October 3
, a German A4
rocket, a prototype version of the V-2 rocket
program reached space, therefore becoming the first man-made object to enter space
, albeit only briefly. Since this flight was undertaken in secrecy, it wasn't public knowledge for many years afterwards. As well, the German launch, and the subsequent sounding rocket
tests performed in both the USA and USSR during the late 1940s and early 1950s, were not considered significant enough for starting a new age, because they did not reach orbit. Having a rocket powerful enough to reach orbit, meant that a nation had the ability to place a payload anywhere on the planet, or to use another term, possess an inter-continental ballistic missile
. The fact that nowhere on the planet was safe from a nuclear warhead is why the orbit standard is used to define when the space age started.