The Space Race was an international competition between two Cold War competitors, the United States and the Soviet Union, to achieve better space flight capability. It had its roots in the cold-war ballistic missile-based arm race between these two countries after World War II. At that time, the Soviet Union was on the verge of manufacturing its first space vehicle, the Salyut space capsule.
When the United States launched the first space vehicle, Friendship 7, which was successfully recovered later, the United States was the clear leader in this race to the moon. However, as was the case with many Cold War competitors, there were delays and difficulties. Ultimately, the US would launch the first human to reach space. Two decades later, the United States would also beat the Soviet Union to the moon – although it would do so by a comparatively narrow margin. Two years after that, this nation was ready to join the space race, when it launched the unmanned Skylab, which was not only the most successful unmanned space flight ever attempted, but also one of the first ever unmanned missions to land on the moon.
At that point in time, it seemed that perhaps the United States was too far behind the soviet union in terms of technology and expertise, especially since the soviet union was also spending huge amounts of money and resources to develop similarly advanced space vehicles. Many observers felt that it was going to be decades before either one of these spacefaring powers could actually go to space. That is not the case however. Currently, there are over a dozen private companies in the United States that are developing new and innovative reusable launch vehicles and systems. Indeed, there has been a lot of funding directed at this effort and companies such as Space Exploration Technologies are actually making good progress.
As previously mentioned, one of the driving forces behind this effort is money. Many prominent members within the private sector feel that the way in which the United States has positioned itself in space has been incredibly important to the success of their commercial endeavors. For example, many companies within the aerospace industry feel that there are several critical technologies that have been developed internally that could greatly reduce the costs of launching U.S astronauts into space. In addition, there are a wide range of initiatives being taken by various private companies to develop new high-tech materials and manufacturing systems that will allow them to reduce the cost of manufacturing parts and components for space exploration. Some of these materials and systems are now nearing the point where they can be tested in an enclosed environment, which should significantly reduce the cost and time associated with testing.
Although there are many experts who believe that it will take the United States at least 20 years to get our astronauts to the space station, some within the industry feel that we can reach that goal much sooner. One prominent member of the space race, however, is not so sure. The aerospace engineer, Dr. Robert Stone, feels that we may not reach the moon or the outer atmosphere of the earth before the end of this decade. If you’ll recall, he recently authored a book that predicted that we may not reach Mars by 2021 at all. Now, even Dr. Stone is willing to admit that there is no guarantee that we will reach Mars in his lifetime.
As with any high-tech enterprise, the space race must continue to succeed if it is to be successful. Many in the United States have jumped on board with this space race, believing that it will help them achieve world power and economic dominance. As long as the Soviet Union is in space, America will remain a world leader in space exploration. However, there is a lot of skepticism within the country regarding the whole space endeavor, especially since so much of the funding for NASA currently comes from the federal government.
In order for America to truly succeed in the space race, it must come to grips with reality. Many believe that the space race is nothing more than another avenue for the country to excel at military endeavors while also demonstrating their technological superiority. Indeed, some feel that NASA is over spending when it comes to NASA space programs. There is also some concern that NASA’s space program has become too expensive and out of control. Many also point to the fact that the moon race never really produced the results which were expected.
When discussing the prospects of America going to the space race to space, one needs to keep in mind the ultimate destination. NASA is working towards sending people to Mars, but they have no intention of going to the moon. The moon is a far different place from Mars, with far less gravity and much less to clean up. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that we will ever send people to the moon. A sensible person therefore must ask whether we really want to go to space, and if so why.