While it has been a costly endeavor, space exploration has produced substantial rewards. Many of the radical technological advancements that we take for granted today were the by-product of the race to explore space. Cellular phones and satellite television are just two of these notable achievements.
History of Space Exploration
Exploration of outer space has likely been desired for many centuries. However, actually using outer space did not truly begin until 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first space satellite. Explorer 1, launched in 1958, was the first U.S. space satellite. American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. NASA achieved major advances in space but today NASA's role in developing and exploring space is gradually eroding in favor of commercial exploration. The enactment of the Space Tourism Act has spawned renewed interest in space exploration by individuals with emerging new companies such as Space Adventures and Virgin Galactic offering sub-orbital tourism flights scheduled to begin in 2012.
Search for Other Life Forms
Space exploration offers the opportunity to potentially discover other life forms. Reasons for the importance of this are not confined to the mere satisfaction of people's curiosity. Historically, we have seen communication with different newly discovered cultures produce many commercial, sociological, technological and other advances.
Technological and Sociological Benefits
NASA has identified more than 1,600 technologies that have benefited society. These include development of artificial hearts, rescue tools, improvement of automotive and home insulation, land mine removal devices, prosthesis materials and infrared cameras.
The 1950s and 1960s were decades of economic prosperity in the United States. This prosperity was due in large part to the space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union. Aerospace-related industries employed millions of workers and supported a great number of profitable companies. Many experts believe that space tourism and development of space could result in an economic boom.
National Security and Military Defense Benefits
Development of space has become an important issue in terms of national and international security. Satellites are just one aspect of the "Stars Wars" space defense program developed by the United States. During the first Gulf War, satellites provided allied forces with information about troop movements, navigation (using GPS technology), imaging, remote sensing and early warning of enemy missile attacks.