US

To infinity and beyond

US
By Zakeriya Ali
Fri, 05, 22

Rockets are of many types, but before going into it, let’s look into the brief history of rockets....

To infinity and beyond

COVER STORY

Rockets are one of the most fabulous and marvellous scientific invention, and are of significant importance to all the space agencies across the globe. A rocket is similar to a missile, but a lot different. A missile is constructed to travel a large distance and then crash and explode into a prechosen and pre-designated site. Rockets, however, are our gateway towards lower earth orbit and outer space. Rockets are of many types, but before going into it, let’s look into the brief history of rockets.

Rockets in ancient China

The rockets developed by the Chinese were mainly used in military campaigns in order to subjugate enemy territories and overpower the enemy forces. This type of technology was far from what we have today. Although the origin of gun powder is unknown, it is widely believed that the Chinese possessed some primitive and crude form of it. Later on, in 12th century AD, these rockets housing gun powder and other explosives were attached to a stick and were used to halt the movement of advancing Mongol forces in the War of Kaifeng.

To infinity and beyond

Rockets during World War 2

During World War II, many advancements in the field of technology were made by German scientists. This splendid progress stunned scientists across the globe. In addition to inventing and constructing land based armoured vehicles, aircrafts and ships to carry out the offensive against the allied forces, they also initiated a top secret programme to build rockets. The first of its kind, V2 rocket was completed in 1944, and was put in service the same year. V-2 rocket was the brainchild of Wernher von Braun, a German scientist. The technology used in V-2 was first of its kind. However, the success of V2 was short-lived as it arrived a bit late. By 1944, the allied forces had gained a significant momentum and were determined to break the Nazis’ line of defence. V-2 operated much like a missile and it was built to bomb the major cities of Europe. Even after the war came to an end, the allied forces kept on operating V-2 until 1952.

Post World War 2 rockets

In 1947, the Cold War officially broke out between USA and Russia (former Soviet Union). This cold war was not fought on borders but was, in fact, fought in labs and testing facilities. When the Soviet Union turned its attention towards space, the US was swift to follow suit. In 1957, the Russian space agency launched a satellite of its own in space called as sputnik. As a result, Soviet Union became the first country in the history of the world to put a satellite in lower earth orbit. The Russians did not stop there. On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin lifted off on VOSTOK 1 rocket and remained in lower earth orbit for about 108 minutes in his Vostok 3KA space capsule. Yuri made it safely back to earth and earned the reputation of being the first man in space. USA, at this time, was a bit lagging behind in this specific field. In 1958, in order to promote aerospace industry in USA, NASA was formed and was given the task of defeating the Russians in the field of space. NASA experienced a bumpy start, though. On 6 December 1957 Vanguard TV3 rocket burst into flames shortly after lift-off. This was supposed to be USA’s first launch but it ended badly. American scientists managed to fix the problem with the rocket and launched America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, into space on 31 January 1958.

To infinity and beyond

We are going to the moon

On 12 September 1962, President John F Kennedy delivered his famous Moon speech at Rice University, Houston. Kennedy, in order to win the space race, handed the task over to NASA to put the first man on the moon before the decade was out. For many, this ambitious project seemed unachievable. However, in order to satisfy Kennedy’s demand, qualified pilots, engineers were assembled by NASA to make Kennedy’s dream a reality. In order to prepare astronauts to land on the moon, NASA initiated Mercury and Gemini programmes. Alan Shepard became the first American in space when the Freedom 7 spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 5 May 1961 aboard a Mercury-Redstone rocket. On 20 February 1962 John Glenn became the first man to orbit earth multiple times in his space capsule Friendship 7. These missions paved the path towards meeting Kennedy’s dream. However, the Titan 2, 3c, Atlas and Atlas Agena operated during the Gemini programme proved to be insufficient to transport astronauts to the moon. As a result, Wernher von Braun the German scientist who had previously designed V2 rockets for the Nazis, was given the task to manufacture a powerful rocket capable of transporting humans to the moon. Braun came up with a powerful rocket called Saturn 5. Saturn 5 was unprecedented in size and could not be compared to any other rocket operating during that era.

To infinity and beyond

Saturn 5 was a multi stage rocket and consisted of three stages. In total, it consisted of three modules, the Command Module where the astronauts spent most of their time throughout the journey, the Service Module which housed the electrical devises needed to provide power to the Command Module and also vital oxygen supplies needed to keep astronauts alive. Finally there was the Lunar Ejector Module which two astronauts would use to land and launch off from the moon’s surface. Apollo 7 was the first Apollo mission in which Saturn 5 was tested and astronauts carried out many manoeuvres in the lower earth orbit. Apollo 8 was the first mission in which a space craft orbited the moon in the history of mankind. On 18 May 1969 Apollo 10 finally blasted off into space and made sure everything was first rate to carry out Apollo 11 mission. Two months later, on 16 July 1969 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michial Collins lifted off on their Saturn 5 rocket. The mission was called Apollo 11 and it was the first time that human race set foot on the lunar surface. On 20 July 20 1969 Armstrong and his mate Buzz Aldrin landed their LEM on the lunar surface. Armstrong became the first human to set his foot on the moon and uttered the famous giant leap quote during the process. Success of Apollo 11 meant that America had won the race to the moon and had shattered the dreams of the Russians to land their cosmonauts on the lunar surface.

To infinity and beyond

Era of the shuttle

American tax payers had to pay one hundred billion dollars to put 12 astronauts on the moon. NASA began to realise that in order to continue the space programme it had to come up with an ingenious idea to make space travel economically feasible. NASA engineers came up with shuttle program, a single re-useable space craft that would have the capability of lifting off like a rocket and land back like an aeroplane. A total of six shuttles were built out of which only five were space worthy. The first shuttle, Columbia, blasted off on 12 April 1981. The shuttle seemed like the solution NASA was looking for. However on 28 January 1986 space shuttle Challenger burst into flames seconds after the lift-off and the mission ended in disaster. The shuttle fleet was grounded for an indefinite period of time and an inquiry was launched. Three years later, shuttle was declared space worthy and the solid rocket booster was redesigned. The shuttle, over a period of 31 years, carried 355 astronauts into the lower earth orbit. Space shuttle was the primary mode of transport which the US utilized to place satellites both for military and communication purpose. Space shuttle discovery enabled the US to carry and deploy space telescope Hubble in space. In 1998, the Russian and the American government joined their hands to build International space station in the lower earth orbit. Segments needed to construct ISS were launched into space by NASA’s shuttle and Roscosmos Soyuz rocket.

To infinity and beyond

The ISS was finally declared space worthy in November 2000, and it has been occupied by humans ever since. The space shuttle programme was facing some technical problems and snags but experts working on the project managed to brush these matters off under the carpet. On 1 February 2003 space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry. An independent investigative board unraveled that one of the heat protective tiles present on the underside of the shuttle was damaged during the liftoff. The Columbia disaster taught the whole aerospace industry some valuable lessons. However, as time went by, NASA began to realise that the shuttle was not really re-useable to a great extent as thousands of parts had to be replaced after touchdown. The shuttle was also taking a heavy toll on the budget and resources needed to keep the programme alive. The cost of the whole shuttle programme is estimated to be 209 billion dollars. The Congress, in 2009, decided to discontinue the shuttle programme due to safety concerns and the ever increasing costs needed to keep the programme. On 21 July 2011, orbital Atlantis touched down in the darkness of the night and marked the end of an incredible era which spanned for a period of 30 years.

To infinity and beyond

Private players

Currently, many private players are contesting in the arena to prove their worth. Noteworthy among them is Elon Musk’s Space X. Space X’s Falcon 9 heavy rockets continuously fly resupplying missions to the ISS. On 30 May 2020 the company made history as it became the first private entity and enterprise to launch commercial astronauts into space. In 2021, Jeff Bezos blasted off into space with his brother, a 91-year-old aviator and a paying customer. Earlier that year, Richard Branson orbited the earth in his Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. The world would never be the same after the amazing feats performed by these private companies. It is hoped that in a period of 50 years space travel and tourism will become a reality and could be afforded by anyone. In the words of Sally Ride “Our future lies with today’s kids and tomorrow’s space exploration.”