It's July 20th today. Three things, in space, happened on this day. Individually and together, these count as some of the biggest things man has done.
A large part of my book-reading fascination came from watching TV programs on space exploration. Of which the most significant mission was announced, and demanded, by this man in 1962:
And it happened, on July 20th 1969. It's difficult to argue against this being the most impressive thing mankind has ever done in history. Bar nothing else.
Which kicked me off onto a long childhood, adolescence, then adulthood of reading science fiction. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of books from authors such as Asimov, Clarke, Aldiss and Adams. And science fact; plenty of science and space fact, such as the books of Patrick Moore, and - especially - Cosmos, by Carl Sagan.
July 20th, 1976 - the first spacecraft to touch down on another planet and start sending back pictures does so. Here's the first picture it sent:
Take a moment to pause and think about that. A spacecraft went to another planet (taking 10 months), did several days of orbits, successfully touched down on a hostile surface, analysed soils, took pictures, and sent back data for over six years.
All using 1970s technology.
The touchdown of the last space shuttle mission, the day after it left the International Space Station and started its descent to Earth.
There were people in space before the Apollo 11 moon landing. There have been people in space after the Space Shuttle program. But in terms of seeing, watching on TV and online, the big space things, those that emotionally charge and inspire us, those 42 years and one day from when man first stepped on the moon, and when the last Space Shuttle returned, marked the high point of where man went, and how he or she got there.
(I've just realised those 42 years and 1 day encompass very nearly all of my life. But now, we're in a post-Space Shuttle age)
There are other endeavors in space. The International Space Station flies over us at speed, often bright in the evening or night sky. Probes and satellites and other machinery go out to the planets, beyond the solar system, to the asteroids and to Mars.
And its to Mars that I hope to see man, or woman, put foot on before I die. Though in these ongoing, partisan, economically turbulent times, that particular dream seems further away than it's seemed for years, decades. Can man get there, as prophesised and discussed in books such as Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, before let's say 2050? I hope so, but I fear the chances are less than 50%, now.
I hope so...