Light Years

Sep 24, 2013 by     Comments Off on Light Years    Posted under: Expressions, Non-Fiction

Exploration is in our nature, we want to observe, learn and see more. In olden days our ancestors gazed up at the sky and wondered what those glimmering points in the distance were. Astronomy (the study of celestial objects) one of the oldest sciences has been practiced by civilizations from even before reliable recorded history.

But just looking at stars did not quench mankind’s thirst, we wanted to get closer. The publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (1687) laid the mathematical basis for dynamics and kinematics. We now had a mathematical model by which they could accurately predict the path of a projectile. Using this knowledge mankind would be able to design projectiles for specific purposes, for instance missile that could reach escape velocity.

Fast forward to the 20th century, serious efforts were being made with regard to space travel. Physics and Mathematics had improved significantly. The first significant event with regard to space travel occurred during WWII. At the start of WWII Germany began manufacturing V-2 (Vergeltungswaffe 2 or Vengeance Weapon 2) short-range ballistic missiles with the intent of razing Britain to the ground. On October 3, 1942 Germany fired a V-2 rocket which managed to cross the Kármán line (100 km above the Earth’s surface) and entered outer space, becoming the first vehicle to do so.

After the war was over the Allies seized a few of the V-2 rockets and carried out their own launch missions. This marked the beginning of a new era. Soon after the Russians followed suit and on October 4, 1957 Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, was launched into space. Between 1940 and 1960 various animals (primarily chimps and dogs) were sent into orbit, on mostly test runs and about 30% of the subjects survived re-entry. From these missions we also learned about novel phenomena (at the time) like solar winds and confirmed the existence of Van Allen’s belts (a layer of plasma which surrounds the Earth).

 On April 12, 1961 the USSR was able to achieve the first manned spaceflight when it sent Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin to space for 1 hour and 48 minutes. This was during the early stages of the Cold War. Yuri’s successful mission resulted in the U.S. stepping up its space program. Both nations made significant achievements in space travel with their mutual animosity acting as the catalyst. Space exploration became more of a competition as the U.S.S.R and U.S. tried to put men on the moon. NASA was fiAnally able to orchestrate and successfully execute the Apollo 11 mission on July 21, 1969 when it put Niel Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon and the rest is history.

A whole new world was open to us. In 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope was put into orbit and to this day we receive images from it of deep space containing millions of galaxies and trillions of stars. The next step seems to be interplanetary travel. Russian and American space agencies have sent probes to and around planets and their moons, like Voyager 1 & 2 which were able to make various discoveries like previously unseen moons orbiting Saturn. On August 25, 2012 Voyager 1 became the first human-made object to enter unexplored interstellar space. The most recent mission was the Curiosity rover which landed on Mars on August 6, 2012. Soon after landing we received a trove of informative images from the rover. The current focus is interplanetary travel. NASA is planning out manned missions to Mars and asteroids.

In Pakistan the National Space Agency SUPARCO (Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission) has been functional since the early 60’s. It has primarily been under military control therefore most of the missions were centered on developing warheads but since the 80’s SUPARCO has worked with international agencies to launch a number of satellites in space. These satellites are mostly for communication. Due to unstable governments the role of SUPARCO has always been underrated and underappreciated. For instance “Vision 2040” is mission in which according to SUPARCO, five GEO satellites and six LEO satellites will be launched in between 2011 and 2040. PakSat-1R was Pakistan’s first geostationary telecom satellite and was launched from Xichang, China on August 11, 2011.

With existing technology interstellar and intergalactic travel seems difficult, almost impossible. But research is being carried out to develop new space technology, like a novel means of propulsion which would increase the speed of the projectile and significantly reduce travel time. Around the world scientists are hard at work trying to achieve the next stage in space travel. Science fiction is slowly becoming reality. If you told a man from the 19th century that one day we’d be able to land on the moon he would have laughed at the idea. If we achieved the moon landing, who’s to say we won’t be able to get a probe out to Alpha Centauri. Of course it’ll take time-probably centuries-but someday mankind will develop the technology required to cross that hurdle and we will travel light-years.

The Author

Born in Karachi, raised in cities all over Pakistan.

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