Ever since man has first stepped on the Moon, or even before that, the human race has dreamt of space travel. Humans’ fascination for the mysterious outer space has remained unchanged despite the advancement of technology which allowed us to unveil some of its mysteries. Even though time travel remains today a very distant thought, many private companies make revenue from launching payloads into space, generally satellites. Even though this form of commercial space transportation seems to have little in common with space travel as humans envisioned it for many decades, this is a very important step towards such accomplishment, because it allowed private companies to get involved, thus opening the possibility for alternative funding and more people using their creativity to solve space travel problems and advance the accomplishments in this field. It is precisely for this reason that the government encourages private companies to invest in the commercial space transportation industry and to come up with new and innovative uses for outer space. The commercial space transportation industry will keep space travel as a possibility for the future.
The rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union determined to a great extent, the rapid progress of technology that allowed humans to travel into space for the first time. It all began in October 4, 1957, when the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 into space. Four years later, in 1961, Russians launched the Vostok 1, which orbited around the Earth carrying a human cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin (webber 139). Americans were not far behind: They launched the first satellite in 1958, only a few months after the Soviets and sent John Glenn unto the orbit in 1962. Seven years later, on February 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. Since then, space transportation evolved rapidly, although space travel remained a utopia. Orbiting satellites had become common by mid-1970s, being considered a major military asset during the Cold War. Even though people did not travel to space, space crafts were being sent to map the surfaces of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In the 1980s, Americans developed the space shuttles that were used in 24 successful military and civilian space missions (Webber 139). Today, the shuttles have been retired from use and new generation reusable space vehicles are currently being tested.
Today, companies compete to create the next generation of launch systems, to reduce the costs of operation and increase the safety of the launches. The Commercial space transportation industry has generally focused on sending satellites into the orbit. This is a global market and the high cost of placing payloads such as satellites into space has encouraged the development of new technology that would diminish costs (Butrica 212). Because of the success of the commercial space transportation industry, private companies now try to expand the usability of improved launch systems towards space tourism, which is the next stage towards space travel (Webber 139-140). In order to do this, companies test reusable launch vehicles destined to transport civilians and have developed spaceports able to accommodate anticipated commercial space tourism (Butrica 214). In addition, the private sector continues to develop vehicles for human space flight, including space tourism. Therefore, it is expected that the number of commercial space launches will increase over the next several years. In addition, the start of the space tourism program is imminent and many stars and personalities have already bought tickets for their first space experience.
The maturing of space technology also meant that, for space exploration missions, the presence of humans, which seemed unreplaceable decades ago when technology and robotics were still primitive, is beginning to become unnecessary. As Landis shows, robots can actually replace humans on surface missions (855). However, the Cold War technological progress, and subsequent development of the commercial space transportation industry have shown that people do not need to go to space themselves in order to explore it. There are many reasons why humans should allow robots to explore new worlds. They have extra senses such as radar, infrared or gamma-ray eyes, and they can also be sent in longer trips, with no possibility of returning (Landis 855). Even though today, private and government bodies have the capabilities to send people as far as Mars, there is still no viable way in which humans could possibly travel further than that, because of the limits of the human body. Nonetheless, the dream of human interstellar travel remains alive, and the current developments in commercial space transportation industry is likely to maintain the fascination for space travel, and even increase it.
As the present paper has shown, the recent development of the commercial space transportation industry, and its progress from unnamed space vehicles meant to carry satellites in space, towards reusable vehicles destined for space tourism, maintains the dream of space travel alive. Although today, people are limited by their own anatomy to nearby destinations such as the Moon, the development of robotics and electronics represents one possibility through which space travel to faraway destinations remains possible. An appealing alternative, because of the reduced risks and the possibility it offers for exploration, it does not nevertheless satisfy the human fascination for space travel, which remains, thanks to commercial space industry, a possibility for the future.
- Butrica, Andrew. “The Commercial Launch Industry, Reusable Space Vehicles, and Technological Change”. Business and Economic History. 27.1 (1998):212-221.
- Landis, Geoffrey. Robots and Humans: Synergy in Planetary Exploration. AIP Conference Proceedings. 654.1 (2003):853-860.
- Webber, Derek. “Space Tourism: its History, Future and Importance”. Acta Astronautica 92 (2013): 138-143.