Preface

It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.

—Robert Hutchings Goddard

Frontiers in Space is a comprehensive multivolume set that explores the scientific principles, technical applications, and impacts of space technology on modern society. Space technology is a multidisciplinary endeavor, which involves the launch vehicles that harness the principles of rocket propulsion and provide access to outer space, the spacecraft that operate in space or on a variety of interesting new worlds, and many different types of payloads (including human crews) that perform various functions and objectives in support of a wide variety of missions. This set presents the people, events, discoveries, collaborations, and important experiments that made the rocket the enabling technology of the space age. The set also describes how rocket propulsion systems support a variety of fascinating space exploration and application missions—missions that have changed and continue to change the trajectory of human civilization.

The story of space technology is interwoven with the history of astronomy and humankind's interest in flight and space travel. Many ancient peoples developed enduring myths about the curious lights in the night sky. The ancient Greek legend of Icarus and Daedalus, for example, portrays the age-old human desire to fly and to be free from the gravitational bonds of Earth. Since the dawn of civilization, early peoples, including the Babylonians, Mayans, Chinese, and Egyptians, have studied the sky and recorded the motions of the Sun, the Moon, the observable planets, and the so-called fixed stars. Transient celestial phenomena, such as a passing comet, a solar eclipse, or a supernova explosion, would often cause a great deal of social commotion—if not outright panic and fear—because these events were unpredictable, unexplainable, and appeared threatening.

It was the ancient Greeks and their geocentric (Earth-centered) cosmology that had the largest impact on early astronomy and the emergence of Western Civilization. Beginning in about the fourth century b.c.e., Greek philosophers, mathematicians, and astronomers articulated a geocentric model of the universe that placed Earth at its center with everything else revolving about it. This model of cosmology, polished and refined in about 150 c.e. by Ptolemy (the last of the great early Greek astronomers), shaped and molded Western thinking for hundreds of years until displaced in the 16 th century by Nicholas Copernicus and a heliocentric (sun-centered) model of the solar system. In the early 17th century, Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler used astronomical observations to validate heliocentric cosmology and, in the process, laid the foundations of the Scientific Revolution. Later that century, the incomparable Sir Isaac Newton completed this revolution when he codified the fundamental principles that explained how objects moved in the "mechanical" universe in his great work Principia Mathematica.

The continued growth of science over the 18th and 19th centuries set the stage for the arrival of space technology in the middle of the 20th century. As discussed in this multivolume set, the advent of space technology dramatically altered the course of human history. On the one hand, modern military rockets with their nuclear warheads redefined the nature of strategic warfare. For the first time in history, the human race developed a weapon system with which it could actually commit suicide. On the other hand, modern rockets and space technology allowed scientists to send smart robot exploring machines to all the major planets in the solar system (including the dwarf planet Pluto), making those previously distant and unknown worlds almost as familiar as the surface of the Moon. Space technology also supported the greatest technical accomplishment of the human race, the Apollo Project lunar landing missions. Early in the 20th century, the Russian space travel visionary Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky boldly predicted that humankind would not remain tied to Earth forever. When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin stepped on the Moon's surface on July 20, 1969, they left human footprints on another world. After millions of years of patient evolution, intelligent life was able to migrate from one world to another. Was this the first time such an event has happened in the history of the 14-billion-year-old universe? Or, as some exobiologists now suggest, perhaps the spread of intelligent life from one world to another is a rather common occurrence within the galaxy. At present, most scientists are simply not sure. But, space technology is now helping them search for life beyond Earth. Most exciting of all, space technology offers the universe as both a destination and a destiny to the human race.

Each volume within the Frontiers in Space set includes an index, a chronology of notable events, a glossary of significant terms and concepts, a helpful list of Internet resources, and an array of historical and current print sources for further research. Based upon the current principles and standards in teaching mathematics and science, the Frontiers in Space set is essential for young readers who require information on relevant topics in space technology, modern astronomy, and space exploration.

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