Half a century after the first moon landing, space is making the news again. After the excitement of the space race that began with the Sputniks of the Soviet Union in 1957 and the Explorer of the United States a year later, and which had as milestones Yuri Gagarin’s journey into outer space in 1961 and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the Moon in 1969, the exploration of the cosmos stopped being a technological competition between the two Cold War superpowers, which participated in the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission in 1975. This period left memorable images of our planet like the ‘Earthrise’ of Apollo 8 in 1968 or the ‘Blue Marble’ of Apollo 17 in 1972, but also iconic photographs of the Moon like those of footprints on lunar dust in the Apollo 11 mission, or the module of Apollo 12 overflying the Moon before landing on the Ocean of Storms, 50-year-old snapshots that still move us.
The space race was one of the expressions of the Cold War, and the military component of research was taken to an extreme during the 1980s, with Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed ‘Star Wars,’ but the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 would divert the attention to other issues. These days, however, interest in space is rekindled with a host of stimulating or ominous news. On one hand, China has reached the far side of the Moon with Chang’e 4, the Voyager 2 probe entered interstellar space just like Voyager 1 did six years ago, and another NASA space probe, New Horizons, encountered Ultima Thule, the farthest object ever explored in the Solar System; on the other, the Pentagon proposes using satellites fit out with laser beams to destroy missiles, a plan of questionable feasiblity and astronomical price that makes us fear the return of the Star Wars.
The space adventure, where the European Union, Japan, India, Brazil, or Israel also participate, is above all an extraordinary challenge of the passengers of Spaceship Earth. In the past, lunar habitation modules belonged to the realm of science-fiction, but today, when we see the proposals of Norman Foster to build dwellings using robot-operated 3D printers – working with ESA in the lunar South Pole, and with NASA, which also organized the 3D Habitat Challenge, in Mars – or those of BIG to raise the domes of Mars Science City outside Dubai – as part of the Mars 2117 project of the United Arab Emirates, which plan to complete within one century the first inhabitable settlement on the Red Planet – we know they portray a plausible future, because they show humankind’s determination to exceed all boundaries, following Buzz Lightyear’s line: ‘To infinity and beyond.’