The Soviets were the first to take the risk and venture into space in October 1957, with a spacecraft called Sputnik I.
And then they did it again in April 1961, as the Soviets were first to engage in human spaceflight with Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbiting the planet in 89 minutes.
In the US, President Dwight D. Eisenhower first signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act in 1958, a bill that created NASA; however, it wasn’t until May 5, 1961, that Alan Shepard became the first American in space. He flew the Mercury spacecraft, which was just barely big enough for one person.
In the early years, space flights and space capsule re-entry landings at sea were a big deal. The press covered all events with detailed awe and reverence. Television stations canceled regular daily programming to televise lift-offs, as well as splash-down returns. The coverage was extensive, with day long telecasts.
Launches and landings were a big deal.
The history of space flight over the past 62 years offers a long list of outstanding, successful accomplishments for everyone involved, especially astronauts who took unbelievable risks. In addition, history also marks several failures and deaths as well. The venture is a risky business.
Today, the International Space Station continues to play a vital role in space exploration, especially for NASA, US astronauts, and other European interests. Most recently, an American astronaut, along with two other crew members returned from space after spending 197 days on the International Station. They landed on Earth Dec. 21, 2018.
But today, times have changed, as I don’t recall hearing anything about their successful return. No press coverage. No news stories. No special report interrupting regular programming to announce a safe landing.
Perhaps for many, news media included, space travel has become commonplace.
Last month, Virgin Galactic, a corporation owned by Richard Branson, launched SpaceShip Two. The aircraft had a successful test flight and traveled over into the edge of space. SpaceShip Two was manned with two pilots, and according to reports, the spacecraft climbed over 271,000 feet or nearly 51.5 miles high –– a height considered by NASA and the U.S. Air Force to be inside space. A big accomplishment for the firm.
Virgin Galactic is in a competitive race –– they are in direct competition with Blue Origin, another space flight company that is run by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com. Both companies are striving to become the first firm to bring space travel to the United States and carry passengers into the atmosphere and return them safely to Earth.
According to media reports, Virgin Galactic hopes to offer thrill seekers passageway on one of their space planes in the near future. And, during the space excursion, passengers will not only be privileged to witness spectacular views of earth and the atmosphere, but will also experience moments of total weightlessness.
According to today’s economic standards, Virgin Galactic estimates such a space travel trip will cost around $250,000 per person, and quite possibly, when considering everything involved, that may be a reasonable charge for traveling into space and moving at a speed of nearly three times the speed of sound.
At the onset, those choosing to ride into space will definitely be thrill seekers, no doubt. And, due to the exorbitant cost, travel will perhaps be limited to the wealthy.
In the years ahead, however, it is likely we will witness big transitions –– changes that may mirror the past 50 years –– a time when society moved from being overtly excited and interested in space adventure, to losing interest and allowing extraordinary accomplishments to become a waning topic of interest.
Space travel in the 1960s was a big deal, and today the possibility of space tourism is also a big deal. It is especially exciting as it represents another huge step forward.
However, much like space travel in the early 1960s, it is likely at some point, space tourism may also become commonplace as well. But then again, maybe not, as that $250,000 price tag will be a real obstacle.