This Thursday will mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the first satellite man put into orbit. It's easy to think of the various ups and downs of NASA and other space agencies over the years, and to complain about the lack of recent advances or manned missions, or whatever the popular criticism is at the moment. Just think for a second though, a mere 50 years ago there was no sign of life up there; no mark of intelligence whatsoever. Beyond our atmosphere there was a gaping void out to the moon.
In fifty years, within the adult lifetimes of many people still around to remember it all, we have launched countless satellites into orbit for a staggering array of purposes - virtually everything we do is in some way affected by 0rbiting computers, from TV to telephone to roadmaps and more. Space based technology has gone from science fiction to the tool of frivolous luxuries in under half a century. More than this, in fifty years we have put giant telescopes into orbit that show us glimpses of a universe more fantastic than anyone could imagine, humans have gone into orbit, lived on space stations, and walked on the god damn moon. Fifty years.
Now we are seeing a shift from government space programs to private ventures (see CNET's special report). Just think of how far we might go in the next fifty years if corporations, along with NASA, are able to guide and extend our reach beyond our planet.
I'm going to make a conscious effort not to dwell on past and future mission failures. Sometimes it's hard to remember just how amazing it is that we took that first step at all, let alone the giant leaps that followed.