Friday, October 05, 2007

October 5, 1957

Fifty years ago today, the Soviet Union put the first man-made object into space and into orbit around the Earth. Sputnik, that little beeping sphere, our first "artificial moon". People, I'm told, could watch it cross the skies over their backyards, witnessing the dawn of the Space Age with their very eyes.

Yes, the Space Age is fifty years old this very day. It's hard to believe it's been that long... and harder still to believe it's only been that long. Consider this: easily within living memory, no man-made object (much less man) had ever been outside our planet's atmosphere, other than radio waves, of course. No human being had looked down and seen the Earth from pole to pole with a single glance. We had never seen a photo that showed our world hanging in the blackness of space. We were earthbound, literally.

I think it's all the more stunning to realize that we went from nothing, the day before Sputnik, to human beings walking on the Moon in less than 12 years. A baby born when Sputnik took flight would have been a kid on summer vacation waiting for grade six to start when he watched Neil Armstrong make that first track. That really WAS a giant leap when you think of it in those terms.

We've kind of let manned exploration get away from us since the early 70s. It's expensive and dangerous. Mars is a long way away. But the Moon isn't. We really ought to be making better use of our nearest neighbour by now.

But still, think of all we've accomplished in 50 years. Thousands of satellites. Human beings on the Moon. Robots we've sent to fly by, then orbit, then land on, and then wander the arid shores of other worlds. Probes to planets that we couldn't even see before the last couple of centuries, showing us their faces close up. Man-made intelligences that have plunged into the atmosphere of a moon of Saturn, wandered the trackless wastes of Mars, tickled the tails of comets. These were all things that only gods could have aspired to when people who haven't even retired yet were children. Okay, it ain't warp drive. But anyone 50 years ago would have been amazed. And so should we be.

Onward and upward.

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