History of Space Exploration is a History of Our Culture

Creating a Space-bound Civilization

Hubble Space Telescope, although decades old, is part of the space age, delivering visions across the universe. NASA

For much of the past year and a half, I worked on a book about space exploration called Space Exploration: Past, Present, Future (it’s actually due out in mid-November in the UK, and April in the U.S. for some reason). When the publishers came to me with the idea, they were interested in having a slightly different “take” on the subject. First, they wanted it to be written for the folks who aren’t space junkies but are interested in what humanity has done to accomplish space flight and travel. Second, they wanted me to look not just at the space race of the ’60s, but all the elements that contributed to the achievements people have made so far in orbit and at other planets.

That was kind of a tall order. Certainly, there are a lot of people who don’t really know the history of space exploration, particularly the younger generations. For them, it’s always been there. In fact, for ME it’s always been there!

So, I thought about it for a while. Yes, I was a kid during the height of the first space race in the 1960s, so I had little to compare with it in my own experience. My parents, on the other hand, came of age during the end of World War II, a time when rockets were mainly used not for exploration, but for destruction. Exploration came later. Their parents saw the age of flight begin. And, before that, flight was by balloon, if it existed at all. Yet, the dreams of flight have been with humans for centuries. It turns out, however, that spaceflight and exploration have their roots going back at least two thousand years.

Thus it is with each generation growing up in an age of expanding technology—what the youngest take for granted, the elders see as a marvelous advance.  That is the way history works: new technologies and ways of doing things define a culture, even as they change it.

Space Exploration Grows A New Society

Today, as a space-faring society, we don’t always see that “newness” anymore, compared to the thousands of years of history that preceded our time. We take for granted so many things once “new” and are now part of our lives. We take instant access to information for granted and easily recognize space-age technology that exists across all endeavors. I’m writing this on a computer that is many, many times more powerful than anything used in the Apollo capsules. My phone probably has more storage capacity than the early missions’ computers did. People in hospitals are routinely diagnosed and treated with technology that had its birth in the space age. We are now seeing a new age of laws and rules come about as companies and countries seek to expand to space.

Could a future mission to Mars be mounted by a private company and government support? Who will fly it? What will they do? All questions our society needs to answer. Image courtesy SpaceX.

As we move outward towards colonies and work environments on the Moon and Mars, the tenets of our spacefaring civilization will continue to change. New technologies will flourish, languages will change to accommodate the outward push, and the people who “do” space will also change.  Our descendants, the future Martians and Loonies, will be very different people from us. Their children may well never be able to visit Earth since their bodies will be so different. That is, if the humans who go to those places are able to reproduce successfully (a big question).

Space Exploration: Outbound

In my book, I look at what a future civilization will look like as it goes to Mars. It’s hard to say how different those people will be from us today. We’re not sending them to another place just like Earth where the air and water are abundant. The trip isn’t a quickie flight across an ocean between continents. The worlds they head to are dry, barren, but fascinating. Their trip will take days (in the case of the Moon) and months (in the case of Mars). Unless there’s a substantial change in the way we build spaceships, they’ll be headed into months of weightlessness. That condition will affect their bodies. We already know what some of those changes are, based on the long-duration flights made by various astronauts and cosmonauts.

The project was a fascinating one to do. Over the next few weeks, I’ll write more about the book, and share a few excerpts to tantalize you. It certainly taught ME a lot about civilizations and technologies. I look forward to the next steps on a new world, by people who will continue our rocket rise to the cosmos.




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