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Five centuries later Christopher Colombus, between 1961 and 1981, man embarked on a new conquest, the largest ever: that of Space. Mysterious, cold and still little known today, Space fascinates. From the first launching of a manned capsule to the launch of the first real spacecraft, 20 years of exploits have made a whole generation dream.
Man sets out to conquer Space
Almost two millennia after the first writings of Lucien of Samosate, who had imagined a wind of such force on the Mediterranean that a ship had finally reached the Moon, and approximately four centuries after the accounts of the French and English writers imagining a transport by Balloons, the first rockets worthy of the name were built in 1937 and launched at the end of 1942.
Certainly not to go to the Moon, but to cross the Channel. But the step is taken and for the first time, in this second half of the 20th century, Man will really be able to launch himself in the direction of the sky.
And there is no longer any question of asking whether, as in the Middle Ages, going to Space could displease the church; the Conquistadors of the void take advantage of the rivalry of the two great powers of the moment to settle in their capsules and face, serenely or with fear in their stomachs, the enormous risk of never coming back, ready to do anything to be the first to to free oneself from weightlessness.
First man in space
In the midst of the Cold War, the Russians were the first to send an artificial satellite into orbit around the earth with Sputnik in October 1957. On April 12, 1961, less than 4 years after the sending of the "little beeping ball", Yuri Gagarin circles the Earth aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft and achieves the first manned flight in history. There is 1 hour 48 minutes in space, before descending to Earth. Having become a hero of the Soviet Union, he will subsequently be assigned to the program of the new Soyuz spacecraft, but will never be allowed to return to space. He accidentally died in 1968 aboard a MIG, which unfortunately deprived him of the spectacle of the conquest of the Moon.
Americans, annoyed, send on their side Alan shepard accomplish a 15-minute jump into the cosmos (but without orbiting) aboard the Mercury "Liberty 7" cabin, May 5, 1961. It was not until John Glenn, February 20, 1962, to circle the Earth three times aboard the "Amitié 7" cabin.
Finally, the first woman in space is also Soviet:Valentina tereshkova completed 48 orbits aboard Vostok 6 from June 16 to 19, 1963.
This feat comes down toAlexis leonov which spends 10 minutes outside the Voskhod vessel on March 2, 1965, swimming in the sidereal void, cold and silent. Edward White follows him three months later for the Americans, floating for 20 minutes out of his Gemini 4 cabin.
First loss during a space mission
Vladimir Komarov, in April 1967, was killed on his way back to Earth, after having circled it 17 times aboard Soyuz 1. His parachute was torched ... An asteroid will be named in his name to honor his memory .
First man on the moon
For the first time, NASA achieves the first a large-scale feat: Neil Armstrong, on July 20, 1969, is the first man to walk on the moon and leaves his imprint on the ground of the star. The Soviets, exhausted by 10 years of bitter struggle, will never achieve the same feat and will focus on their space station project.
First space station
April 19, 1971, Salyut 1 is put into orbit using a Proton rocket. She receives a visit from two Soyuz vessels. The first, Soyuz 10 (April 23-25), cannot dock at the station and is forced to return to Earth. It is finally Soyuz 11 which successfully moored on June 7. On board, Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev and Vladislav Volkov spent a total of 23 days in orbit.
Man is no longer content to cross Space: he remains there. Unfortunately, the three cosmonauts lost their lives on their return to Earth, following depressurization.
First international space flight
Sign of relaxation between the two blocks, the July 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission sees an American spacecraft dock with a Soviet spacecraft after a rendezvous in orbit. The Americans T. Stafford, V. Brand and D. Slayton, thus meet A. Leonov and V. Kubasov.
First reusable rocket
The American space shuttle Columbia was launched on April 12, 1981, twenty years to the day after the flight of first man in space. It is the first craft of this type, capable of taking large satellites into low orbit and, eventually, bringing them back to Earth.
And it is finally, to date, the only one of this type despite many similar projects including the famous Buran (USSR) and the very ambitious Hermes (CNES then ESA). With this vehicle, Man definitively controls the immediate space of the Earth.
Other conquests await him ...
The Universe, a new environment for Man
Before the first men were sent into space, scientists were somewhat worried, as they did not know what the effects of space flight would be on the organism and the psyche. Astronauts go from immobility on the launch platform at a speed of 28,000 km / h in less than ten minutes. The acceleration of a rocket sometimes reaches values at the limit of the bearable for a trained individual, who can then weigh almost ten times his normal weight. Then there is weightlessness, a sensation that we do not know on Earth, and which can cause unrest.
In low orbit around the earth, day and night repeat every hour and a half and no longer every 24 hours. There is no more air to intercept meteorites or filter the dangerous rays of the Sun and, contrary to what science fiction films may suggest, there is no noise.
Finally, on their return, the space men must once again withstand strong decelerations and go through a real blaze, because their space cabin is brought to more than 1500 ° C and could burn like a meteorite.
In a quarter of a century of spaceflight, considerable progress has been made in the field of spacesuits, as in that of comfort on board spacecraft. The suits thus become light and flexible; without being in the kitchen, we eat almost normally in space, and launch accelerations have been reduced. Cosmonauts lived for 7 months around the Earth, in zero gravity, aboard the Soviet orbital station Salyut 7. And finally, aboard the shuttle, we go into space without difficulty, a bit like we take the plane. Later, tourists will also leave ...
The Moon, constantly revisited
Before going to the Moon himself, and even afterwards, Man sent his robots there. Here in a few dates these explorations "by proxy" which contributed in a beautiful way to the conquest of the Star that the human being has spent all his existence to contemplate.
- September 14, 1959: Luna 2 (U.R.S.S.) was the first probe to strike the Moon.
- October 4, 1959 : the U.S.S.R. Luna 3 launched. This probe flew over the Moon and took the first photographs of its far side.
- July 28, 64 : Ranger 7 (U.S.A.) transmitted 4000 photos by radio, during its free fall towards the Moon.
- February 3, 1966: The first spacecraft to land smoothly on the Moon was Luna 9 (U.R.S.S.). The capsule landed on the star and sent shots of the ground for three days.
- March 31, 1966 : launch of Luna 10 (U.R.S.S.): it is the first probe to orbit the Moon.
- August 1966 to August 1967 : the United States has placed five "Lunar orbiters" in orbit around the Moon. Their mission was to photograph the star from every angle, in order to establish maps allowing the choice of landing sites for future Apollo missions.
- The Surveyor (U.S.A.) probes gently landed on the Moon between May 1966 and January 1968. There were five successful missions out of seven attempts. The aim was to take pictures of the surface and to carry out chemical analyzes of the soil.
- Explorer 35 (U.S.A.) orbiting the Moon on July 22, 1967 to measure its magnetic field.
- The U.R.S.S. launched Luna 16 on September 12, 1970. The probe landed on the Moon eight days later to collect 100 grams of dust and automatically return to Earth on September 24.
- Luna 17 (U.R.S.S.), launched on November 10, 1970, landed gently on the Moon seven days later. She left a remote control vehicle there, the Lunok-hod 1.
To go further on the first man in space
- History of the conquest of space, by Jean-François Clervoy. De Boek, 2017.
- 100 received ideas, untruths and unusual facts about the conquest of space. The Archipelago, 2019.