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        One of the most profound motivations to explore space was exposed 45 years ago by Dr. Robert Jastrow, then Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. Speaking at the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 20, 1963, he pointed out the idea that space exploration will be a powerful stimulus to new ideas and technology. 
        “One must go back to the explorations of the late 15th Century to find a parallel in what we are about to witness in the next thirty to fifty years, said Dr. Jastrow. Those explorations 450 years ago and their results awakened interest in the world and an intellectual ferment which were the necessary foundations for the development of a scientific revolution.” 
        Dr. Jastrow insisted that the ideas upon which the scientific revolution was found appeared because the Renaissance was stimulated by the Age of Great Discoveries. “It took the explorations of the 15th and early 16th centuries to shake established notions enough to permit the birth of modern scientific thought,“ he said.  
        And then, because science and exploration acts as powerful stimulus to progress, new ideas and concepts were implemented more and more rapidly.  “In the 19th century, the lag was rather long,” said Dr. Jastrow. “The Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell published a treatise on electromagnetism in 1864, but not until 1901 did Marconi transmit the first wireless signal across the Atlantic. More recently, in 1932, Chadwick discovered the neutron and Fermi set the first atomic pile only 10 years later.  Still more recently, Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley at the Bell Labs discovered the transistor in 1948 and only six years later, the first transistorized power amplifier appeared on the market.”
        The NASA scientist considered: “I think that the history of the last one hundred years demonstrates that we need not expect a very long wait before space research will feed back into everyday affairs and play a role in them.”
          Since Dr. Jastrow’s lecture, 45 years had passed, and it is now possible to see if space exploration had really accelerated new ideas and technologies into our everyday life.
         As we will see, space exploration had, in fact, reserved many surprises, some good some bad, and has changed our life in many and somewhat unanticipated ways. 

First technologies Implemented

         At the time Dr. Jastrow submitted his ideas to reporters, NASA was already experimenting with two promising technologies: communications and weather satellites. 
         The first meteosat, TIROS 1, was launched in April 1960 and had alreday provided 19,000 usable cloud-cover photographs during its short 78-day life.  In the following three years, five other low-orbit TIROS satellites went into operation, each transmitting ten of thousands pictures. in August 1962 alone, TIROS V and VI discovered two Atlantic hurricanes and four Pacific typhoons.
        Today, 24/7 global survey of world hemispheres are provide by a dozen meteosats in geosynchronous orbit.  Each day on TV, we’re seeing continental maps depicting weather patterns that so profoundly change our view that we would be astonished to see the poverty of a 1963 weather bulletin. For instance, just consider the pre-Space Age idea we had of Earth, without any clouds, compared to what a meteosat shows us every day (below).

Left: Earth as imagined before the Space Age, and as it really is.

         In 1963, NASA and AT&T’s Bell Laboratory were also experimenting intercontinental communications with satellites placed in low-Earth orbit.  Telstar 1, the first privately-financed comsat was launched in July 1962 and it operated for six months during which it relayed the first television pictures, telephone calls and fax images between America and Europe.  Then Relay 1, launched by NASA in December 1962, had operated successfully for 203 days, setting records for performance and durability for a communications satellite. It carried out more than 1,350 communications experiments and demonstrations. Then the first ever geosynchronous satellite, Syncom 1, was launched by NASA in February 1963 but was lost soon thereafter. (It was replaced six months later by Syncom 2, which successfully operated from geo orbit.)
         Today, we live in a world were high-quality, high-speed communications of all sorts are guaranteed by dozens of commercial comsats.  These satellites change our live in many ways by transforming our world into a global village were everything is seen live. 

        This is not to say that everything went as expected.  For instance, in the early days of the Space Age, we tough that the majority of transoceanic phone calls would transit by satellites; but today they get mostly through undersea cables.  However, another unforeseen application developed: Direct-to-Home (DTH) broadcasting which provide hundreds of TV channels directly in our home.  Who would have thought forty years ago that a 50-cm dish fixed on the roof of a house could be in contact with a spacecraft placed some 36,000 kilometres above?
        This technology is remarkable in many ways, one of which is the fact that it provides to citizen living under dictatorships a window of what’s going on outside their prison.  DTH technology is also used by reporters to broadcast from isolate places, such as war and disaster zones as well as from closed countries. It is a powerful tool for democracy and for information.

In December 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts made one of the most important discoveries 
of space exploration while taking this view of Earth “rising” from Moon’s horizon.

Revolutionizing our vision

        When Dr. Jastrow presented space exploration as a powerful stimulus to new ideas and technology, he didn’t foresee the revolution that would happen only five years later.
         On Christmas Eve 1968, the first humans to orbit the Moon sent back memorable pictures and comments about the Earth “rising” from the Moon’s horizon.

For Apollo 8 astronauts near the Moon, the Earth was 
filling less than one percent of the frame they exposed.

        By beaming pictures of our little blue marble lost in the blackness of space, Apollo 8 astronauts forever changed our perspective.  Our ecological conscience took off with their sensational reports and we began to take care of the environment that we were then polluting without any regards. 
        Thus, the most important discoveries we’ve made by going to the Moon was the fragility of our home planet and the absolute necessity to take care of it.  This view from the Moon ignited a revolution – an ecological revolution - here on Earth.

Satellite in our daily life

         As envision by Dr. Jastrow, space exploration also brought a new technology: navigation by satellite.  This technology was already envisioned at the beginning of the Space Age to guide missiles, airplanes and ships at sea.  As early as 1959, U.S. Navy was experimenting with Transit navsat which proved so useful that the Department of Defense deployed an operational system of Navstar Global Positioning System.  But what we didn’t expected at the time was the civilian use of navsat.  In the 1980s, DoD gave access to its Navstar to civilian users, and a new industry was born.  Today, GPS receivers are used for hundreds of applications, including driving in cities. 
         Another technology not envisioned at the beginning of the Space Age was satellite that literally save lives.  Combining communications and positioning technologies, a network of search-and-rescue satellites was deployed during the 1980s to locate airplanes, ships and even travelers in danger.  This SARSAT system is credited for having rescued 24,000 lives in 27 year of operations. 

Cumbersome space technology

         However, not all space-based technologies became success as expected, two of which being Earth remote sensing and cellular phone services. 
         In the 1980s, it was expected that we would built global cellular phone satellite networks.  Some thought that a couple of geosynchronous satellites would served the whole planet (M-Sat) while other favoured constellations of low-orbiting satellites (Iridium and Globalstar).  But, this space-based application took so much time to develop that, in the mean time, Earth-based networks expanded and took the bulk of this lucrative market. 
         As for Earth remote sensing, with the launch of Landsat 1 in 1972 and of Spot 1 in 1986, we were expecting this would become the second most profitable space activities (after communications).  Though remote sensing had found some commercial applications, but not as much as expected.

Some didn’t happened at all

         As we have seen many times in history, exploration brings unanticipated results.  For instance, Columbus didn’t find a shorter route to Asia, but he discovered new continents! Space exploration has its own examples.
         In the early days, we envisioned space exploration as a kind of exotic adventure in a “new ocean” (as said President Kennedy in 1962).  We imagined spaceships cruising the Solar System as were doing the sea ships of 15th and 16th centuries. We envisioned spaceships leaving futuristic Earth ports to roam across space.  Many publications - such as the famous 1950s Colliers’ series produced by Wernher von Braun and illustrated by Chesley Bonestell - promised us gigantic construction projects such as Earth-orbiting wheel-shaped space stations, lunar colonies and Mars bases.  But, by 2010, less than 300 piloted spaceships of small size had been launched, carrying less than 1,500 people. 

        1950s arts depicted construction workers in space suit doing their craft as if they were working in an environment not so different than here on Earth.  But, after fifty years of space exploration, we had managed only 350 EVAs performed by pairs of astronauts.  The fact is that nobody really anticipated how working in space would be so difficult, expansive and dangerous.
         Of course, we could say that in the 1950s, we were knowing so little about space that our visions were naive.  But so were they some twenty years later!  Remember that, following the 1973 oil crunch, some were thinking of building gigantic Solar Power Stations (SPS) to produce kilowatts of energy to be beamed down by microwave.  And with the advent of the Space Shuttle and its 100 $/lb. launch cost promises, we were planning construction of large multi-purpose space facilities.  Some even advocate using Shuttle’s External Tank farms assembled in orbit as large storage facilities. Other envision space tourism, commercial manufacturing of goods to take advantage of weightlessness and vacuum of space, space mining of the Moon, exploitation of asteroids and of other space resources to built more advanced space structure.
       But space is not a new ocean or a new continent to explore, to conquer, to exploit or to colonize.  Spaceflight is neither some kind of exotic long-distance sea adventure.
        In hindsight, our vision of space exploration of fifty or even thirty years ago proved naïve compared to the realities of travelling and working in space.  Space travel is much more risky than we had expected, President Kennedy’s new ocean prove much more daunting than our oceans to the 15th Century courageous adventurers.
        But space also proved much more beneficial here on Earth that we had envisioned.

Peacemakers from space

         Today, we have forgotten how the world was a dangerous place during the 1960s and 1970s as both the United States and the Soviet Union were on stand-by to destroy each other with hundreds of nuclear warheads.  We were living under the suspicion, distrust and hostility of the Cold War, the most terrifying period in our history.
         Fortunately, during that time, dozens of military spy satellites played a key role in maintaining both camps well informed.  Otherwise, by not knowing what the other was doing, one camp could have been tempted to launch a pre-emptive strike. Spysat probably saved us from extinction.  They even became peacekeepers. 
        In the 1970s and 1980s, they made negotiation of arms limitation treaties possible between U.S. and U.S.S.R., even though both sides distrust each other.  (Remember Ronald Reagan calling the Soviet  the “Evil Empire”?)  By monitoring the applications of these treaties, these “National means of verification” became peacemakers and, with time, agents of trust-building.
        Not only did spysat prevented us from annihilation but it permitted trust to develop between the two enemies up to the point that, in the 1990s, United States and Russia were able to commit themselves into the greatest partnership of all time: the International Space Station.
        The Space Age, which began as a political and technological race to show which of the two systems - capitalist or communist – was the fittest, had the unexpected result of linking both nations.  What an unexpected “powerful new idea”, Mr. Jastrow!
        Also, cooperating to built ISS involved sharing some of the most sensitive technologies developed by former rivals.  It required day-to-day work between hundreds of American and Russian experts.  ISS is even sometime crewed by former Soviet and American Air Force pilots who, otherwise, could be confronting each other in warplanes.
        The ISS partnership also could be viewed as contributing to keep peace here on Earth today.  With more and more contentious issues between Russia and U.S. – recent Russia invasion of Georgia, U.S. planned missile shield in Eastern Europe, Russia feeling more and more surrounded by NATO forces, Iran and North Korea nuclear threats, etc. -, maybe if it was not for the needs to keep ISS in operation, both superpowers might be tempted to sever ties.
        So, by going to the Moon, we became conscious that Earth is fragile, and spysat and ISS became tools for peacemaking here on Earth -technologies that literally revolutionized our life with breathtaking applications of new ideas.

On the shore of this new ocean

        In his 1963 speech, Dr. Jastrow stated that: “The exploration of the Moon has a very special role to play… because it is a relatively lifeless body. It has no atmosphere, no oceans, nothing to wear away the record of the history of the Solar system, and of whatever has occurred to the surface of the Moon since its birth… For this reason, the Moon is a kind of Rosetta Stone of the Solar System from which we can read the past. That is why it is so interesting to scientist, he has the opportunity to find there the record of the early history of the Solar System.” 
         Isn’t it sad that these comments, made 45 years ago, are as true today as they were then?  Even if we had been on the Moon six times, we haven’t read much of this Rosetta Stone. 
        That does not mean we haven’t learn a lot in the last 45 years. Our vision of the Universe, especially of the Solar system, is more accurate.  For instance, in the early days, we considered that most of the moons orbiting other planets were piece of rocks not much interesting to explore.  But space probes show us that most of those bodies had their own landscape, their own personalities and, in many cases, a lot to teach us.  As we see it now, the Solar System is made of at least a hundred fascinating worlds to explore!
         We also learned from planetary exploration that life is probably more abundant than we thought.  Of course, we haven’t find any trace of life in our Solar System, but the discoveries we have made lead us to think that it could be frequent throughout our galaxy.  This finding make our quest on planets around other starsexciting. 

         One important lesson to be glean from Dr. Jastrow exposé and of 45 years of space exploration is probably that the best is yet to come. 
          The fact is, although we have learn a lot about the Solar System, we don’t know much about the Moon and of the hundred of other worlds in our neighbourhood.  The two hundreds space probes we have launched so far toward the planets have done not much exploration compared to what scientists have done on Earth.  And yet, we have plenty to learn here on Earth… and so much more throughout our Solar System.
         The good news is that the bulk of discoveries is in front of us, not behind.  As Dr. Jastrow pointed out, space exploration is a powerful stimulus for new ideas and technology, and the last 45 years confirmed it many times, that mean the most promising ones are yet to come.  Considering how new ideas and technology had already change our life in so many ways, imagine what the future has in store for us!

© Claude Lafleur, 2004-10 Mes sites web: claudelafleur.qc.ca