Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Space Race(1957-1975) - Risks and Responsibilities

The Cold War (1947–1991), was the continuing state of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition existing after World War II (1939–1945) between the Communist World – primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies – and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States and its allies. They expressed the conflict through military coalitions, strategic conventional force deployments, extensive aid to states deemed vulnerable, proxy wars, espionage, propaganda, conventional and nuclear arms races, appeals to neutral nations, rivalry at sports events, and technological competitions such as the Space Race.

The Space Race was a mid-to-late twentieth century competition between the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US) for supremacy in outer space exploration. Between 1957 and 1975, Cold War rivalry between the two nations focused on attaining firsts in space exploration, which were seen as necessary for national security and symbolic of technological and ideological superiority. The Space Race involved pioneering efforts to launch artificial satellites, sub-orbital and orbital human spaceflight around the Earth, and piloted voyages to the Moon. It effectively began with the Soviet launch of the Sputnik 1 artificial satellite on 4 October 1957, and concluded with the co-operative Apollo-Soyuz Test Project human spaceflight mission in July 1975.
The Space Race sparked unprecedented increases in spending on education and pure research, which accelerated scientific advancements and led to beneficial spin-off technologies. An unforeseen consequence was that the Space Race contributed to the birth of the environmental movement; the first colour pictures of Earth taken from deep space were used as icons by the movement to show the planet as a fragile "blue marble" surrounded by the blackness of space.
Both nations faced serious challenges and risks that brought their programs to a halt. Both nations had been rushing at full-speed on the Apollo and Soyuz programs, without paying due diligence to growing design and manufacturing problems. The results proved fatal to both pioneering crews.
Likely the worst disaster during the Space Race was the Soviet Union's Nedelin catastrophe in 1960. It happened on 24 October 1960, when Chief Marshal Mitrofan Nedelin gave orders to use improper shutdown and control procedures on an experimental R-16 rocket. The hasty on-pad repairs caused the missile's second stage engine to fire straight onto the full propellant tanks of the still-attached first stage. The resulting explosion, toxic-fuel spill and fire, killed anywhere from 92 to 150 top Soviet military and technical personnel. Marshal Nedelin was vaporized, and his only identifiable remains were his war medals, especially the Gold Star of the Soviet Union. His death was officially explained as an airplane crash. It was also a huge set-back for the rocket's chief designer, Mikhail Yangel, who was trying to unseat Korolyov as the person responsible for the Soviet human spaceflight program. Yangel lived only because he went for a cigarette break in a bunker that was removed from the launch pad, but he would not rival Korolyov during the rest of this period. The Nedelin catastrophe would remain an official secret until 1989, and the survivors of the incident were not allowed to discuss it until 1990, thirty-one years after it occurred.
Technology—advanced greatly during this period. However, the effects of the Space Race went far beyond rocketry, physics, and astronomy. "Space age technology" extended to fields as diverse as home economics and forest defoliation studies, and the push to win the race changed the very nature of science education.
American concerned that they had fallen behind the Soviet Union in the race to space led quickly to a push by legislators and educators for greater emphasis on mathematics and the physical sciences in American schools. The United States' National Defence Education Act of 1958 increased funding for these goals from childhood education through the post-graduate level. To this day over 1,200 American high schools retain their own planetarium installations, a situation unparalleled in any other country and a direct consequence of the Space Race.
The scientists educated through these efforts helped develop technologies that have been adapted for use in the kitchen, in transportation systems, in athletics, and in many other areas of modern life. Dried fruits and ready-to-eat foods (in particular food sterilization and package sealing techniques), stay-dry clothing, and even no-fog ski goggles have their roots in space science. International Space Station in 2010
Today over a thousand artificial satellites orbit earth, relaying communications data around the planet and facilitating remote sensing of data on weather, vegetation, and human movements for the nations who employ them. In addition, much of the micro-technology that fuels everyday activities, from time-keeping to enjoying music, derives from research initially driven by the Space pioneering crews.


D Sai Prashanth

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