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Sputnik sweetheart

The best way to remember Sputnik’s historic sojourn would be for all countries to channel the renewed interest in space exploration to make cooperation — the new mantra.

india Updated: Oct 04, 2007 22:12 IST

Who could have predicted 50 years ago that tiny beeps from an aluminium sphere would change the world forever? Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, did just that on October 4 (the morning of October 5 in Russia), 1957, as the USSR launched it into orbit around Earth, beating the Americans in the opening chapter of the space race. It ushered in the Space Age that helps us understand our origins and place in the universe. But what is important to remember half a century down the line is that Sputnik 1’s legacy is not just confined to space exploration. For it so galvanised renewed interest in science education in the world as to spur dramatic technological developments in everything from the treatment of disease to harvesting crops.

While early satellites explored the space environment (Explorer, for instance, discovered the Van Allen radiation belts that encircle Earth), and also proved the feasibility of satellites, since 1957, thousands of satellites were placed in orbit to perform a variety of tasks. These include communications, scientific research, navigation, reconnaissance, weather and land and sea observation satellites. In fact, everything from making phone calls and online access on trains and planes, to the control of armies half a world away now depends on the cornucopia of satellites. Sputnik’s robotic descendants have explored nearly all the major worlds and moons of our solar system, and performed kamikaze crashes into asteroids.

Indeed, some are well on their way to leaving the solar system altogether. So perhaps the best way to remember Sputnik’s historic sojourn would be for all countries to gather under an umbrella and channel the renewed interest in space exploration to make cooperation — not confrontation — the new mantra.