Despite the fact that nearly every little kid has wanted to be an astronaut at some point during their childhood, there are a staggering number of facts that the general population just doesn’t know about space and space travel. With worlds of information available to us on virtually any subject, it is not terribly difficult to overlook important and interesting facts that are integral to our understanding of the world and universe around us. While not every child who dreams of becoming an astronaut will succeed, the scientific discoveries made possible by space travel and exploration translate to almost any discipline of study. Whether you become an artist, a business executive, a teacher, or a famous scientist, the following 9 facts will help you realize the phenomenal potential every person has when they put their minds to something.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
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Although NASA is one of the world’s leading programs in space exploration and scientific discovery, many Americans remain uneducated as to what the acronym NASA actually stands for. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established on July 29, 1958, by the National Aeronautics and Space Act. NASA was set into motion by the “space race” that began with the Soviet space program’s launch of the first human-made satellite in 1957. The United States government was alarmed by the perceived threat Soviet space exploration posed to our national security and technological leadership status and, thus, urged President Eisenhower to create a U.S. space program.
American astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the surface of the moon. Space mission Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited above. The success of Apollo 11 was a major accomplishment for the United States space program, beating out the Soviet space program as the first mission to reach the moon.
Becoming an Astronaut
In order to apply to be an astronaut, you must be a pilot who has completed up to 1000 hours of flying time in a jet aircraft. The first seven U.S. astronauts were selected in 1959 when NASA requested that the U.S. military provide a list of people who met very specific qualifications. Since the original seven American astronauts were chosen in 1959, only 339 astronauts have been selected from the thousands of applicants.
The Skylab was the first space station that the United States launched into orbit. From 1973 to 1979, this almost 100-ton station orbited Earth, with the purpose of studying gravitational anomalies in other solar systems. The Skylab was the second space station visited by a human crew (the first being the Soviet Salyut 1). Skylab was visited by crews three times before the station reentered Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated in 1979. The Skylab collected significant scientific data, including photographs of solar flares, 127,000 frames of film of the sun and 46,000 of the earth, and information concerning the existence of coronal holes in the Sun. The space shuttle also aided in NASA’s understanding of an astronauts’ adaptation to extended periods of low gravity.
On January 31, 1958, Explorer 1 became the first satellite launched into space by the United States. Onboard the spacecraft was a cosmic ray detector designed to measure the radiation environment in Earth’s orbit. It was the first spacecraft to detect intense bands of radiation (now known as Van Allen radiation belts). This is now marked as the first major scientific discovery of the space age. Explorer 1 remained in orbit until 1970 and has been followed by more than 90 scientific spacecraft in the Explorer series.
Mars Exploration Rover Mission
Launched in 2003, NASA’s robots, Spirit and Opportunity, landed on Mars in 2004 as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Mission. The scientific objective of the mission is to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils from Mars’ surface that might hold clues to the history of water on Mars. Still, currently on the surface of Mars and collecting data, both robots have outperformed their initial missions, which were supposed to last only three months.
Saturn’s moon Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system. It is larger than both Mercury and Pluto and would almost certainly be considered a planet of its own if it orbited the Sun. Titan has been of particular interest to scientists because of its known similarities to Earth. Titan is one of the few known moons with its own dense atmosphere. This atmosphere is thought to be very similar to what Earth’s atmosphere was in the past. Therefore, scientists believe that by learning about Titan we can learn more about our own planet.
Currently studying Saturn and its moons, Cassini-Huygens was launched in 1997, entering Saturn’s orbit on July 1, 2004. Cassini-Huygens’ landing on Titan was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer solar system. What is particularly remarkable about this mission is that it is an international collaboration between three space agencies and 17 nations. More than 250 scientists worldwide will study the data collected by the deep space mission.
While all of these modern-day scientific discoveries have been revolutionary to our understanding of space, the solar system, and our own planet, we must not forget the groundbreaking discoveries made by the people who shaped science as a discipline. Galileo was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who is credited with many scientific achievements. He made major improvements to the telescope, discovered spots on the Sun, and found that the Milky Way was composed of millions of faint stars. However, his most stunning (and controversial) discovery was of satellites orbiting Jupiter, invalidating the concept that Earth was the center of the Universe.