Space: how far have we gone – and where are we going?

Who has travelled to space?

Space flight is now a venerable industry. Humanity’s first space explorer, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, orbited around the globe on 12 April 1961, more than half a century ago, when Britain remained a colonial power and people were still using halfpennies to buy their fish and chips.

Since then, more than 550 people have blasted themselves into the deep black abyss, although not all agree on how far up you need to go until you hit space, so there is no internationally accepted figure. Only a 10th of those have been women, in big part due to sexist policies by Nasa and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.

Where have we been in space?

The Soviet Union pulled ahead with the first space walks, but US president John F Kennedy’s announcement that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s focused the space race squarely on that goal. Apollo 11 touched down on our dusty grey neighbour on 20 July 1969.

A total of 12 men walked on the moon over the next few years, all Americans, but no one has been back there since 1972. In fact, no one has left the outskirts of the Earth since then.

We imagine astronauts floating in free space or bouncing in moon craters, yet the majority of those lucky enough have instead spun around in low Earth’s orbit – between 99 and a few hundred miles high. That’s where the vast array of communications and navigation satellites live, speeding at thousands of miles an hour to avoid plummeting back to earth.

Read more The Guardian

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