The night sky has enchanted millions of humans from immemorial times. We have been continuously enthralled by the mysteries of the outer space. With childlike curiosity, we venture out to know more and more about space, hoping that our innate desire for knowledge will be satiated by exploration. Humanity has far much evolved from just gazing into the star-studded sky to actually understanding what stars are and has even christened them! Some of the milestones in this journey that have revolutionized our imagination are:-
- First telescopic observation of the sky: Imagine looking up in the sky, seeing bright beings in all their splendour and actually knowing what they are. Galileo Galilei did just that for us. In 1610, Galileo while looking up into the sky with his telescope, discovered four moons of the planet Jupiter. These moons were called Galilean moons and named as Io, Europa, Ganymede and Calisto. Galileo also observed lunar craters, phases of the planet Venus and sunspots. These observations paved the way for further exploration and a tilt towards Copernicanism, which is the theory that depicts that the sun is the centre of the solar system rather than the Earth.
- First Literature on Theoretical Space Exploration: ‘Without books, history is silent, literature as good as dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at standstill.’ These wise words, said by Barbara Tuchman, find an example in Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. In 1903, Tsiolkovsky wrote “Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами” also known as “The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices”. This was his first work of scientific literature which used the Tsiolkovsky equation to prove that space travel is possible by means of a multistage rocket fuelled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. Tsiolkovsky was heavily inspired by the literary work of fiction named ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ which was penned by the legendary French novelist, Jules Verne. The various writings of Jules Verne have been an inspiration for many scientists in varied fields. Although rocket science is a major science discipline now, it was largely ignored by the academic world then.
- First Artificial Satellite: “Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century. ”These words uttered by J.G. Ballard achieved verity on 4th October, 1957, when Sputnik 1 was launched into an elliptical low Earth orbit. Sputnik 1, the brainchild of the then functional nation USSR, was the first artificial satellite to be launched. The ramifications of Sputnik 1 were varied. The satellite triggered the Space Race and was part of the larger Cold War. Even though it was not fitted with scientific equipment, it helped scientists gather valuable information.
- First animal in orbit: “Eventually everyone will have the opportunity to travel onto space.” When Lance Bass said this he probably had no idea that the first living creature in orbit would be a dog. On 3rd November, 1957, Soviet aircraft Sputnik 2 was launched into orbit and it carried aboard itself a dog named Laika. Laika was the first animal and dog in space proving that animals can resist microgravity in space and thus paving way for human explorations. Unfortunately, Laika did not survive longer and died due to overheating. Laika will always be remembered for her significant contribution to space exploration.
- First man in space: “Man must rise above Earth, to the top of the atmosphere and beyond, for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” These inspiring words of Socrates were proven achievable on 12th April, 1961 when Yuri Gargarin became the first man in space. He was on Vostok 1, a USSR spacecraft, which completed an orbit of the Earth. He returned back to Earth safely.
- First woman in space: “Women are not the weak, frail little flowers that they are advertised. There has never been anything invented yet, including war, that a man would enter into, that a woman wouldn’t too.” This statement by Will Rogers was proven correct on 16th June, 1963, when Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. She was part of the crew of Vostok 6, a USSR spacecraft and had been selected from more than 400 applicants. As her induction into the Soviet Air Force was done to join the Cosmonaut Corps, she was also the first civilian in space, which makes her more legendary.