From the launch of Sputnik - the first artificial satellite - in 1957, through to the first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, the first moon landing in 1969, and beyond, both superpowers in the Cold war invested huge amounts of money in trying to outdo each other in the so-called ‘space race’. At the time, this was a convenient project to choose: while it allowed the two nations to compete in a supposedly peaceful area, proving their scientific achievements, the work on rockets also fed directly into work on the inter-continental ballistic missiles, which would allow them to strike at each other with nuclear weapons in the event of war.
Since the end of the Cold War, however, the future of space exploration has become less clear. Russia no longer has the resources to invest in a substantial space program; without an enemy to compete with, the USA has also cut back on its exploration programs. The emphasis is now on missions which are ‘faster, better, cheaper’ – grand projects such as the Voyager missions of the late 1970s seem unlikely to be repeated. In particular, the American commitment to manned exploration of space has diminished, especially after the 2003 Columbia disaster, when all seven astronauts on the Space Shuttle died during re-entry. President Obama has scrapped a planned return to the moon, turning to private companies and foreign nations to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. On the other hand, China has been developing an active space program in recent years with several manned flights, while India is also beginning to launch its own rockets.
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