Twenty-five years ago this month the Soviet Union put the first
Sputnik into orbit. The Space Age began. What now is the legacy of
the quarter century? If I can put it in one word, it is globalism.
Forced into our unwilling minds has been a view that presents
humanity as a single entity. This has been done in several ways.
As a result of the satellites that have been put into orbit,
Earth has become a unit. Communication satellites have put every
portion of the world into direct and virtually instantaneous touch
with every other. This has developed worldwide business and
diplomacy to the point where returning to the way things were before
1957 is unthinkable.
The sight of the Earth as a whole, a planetary sphere, seen
small and skyborne from the Moon, forces us to think of it as small
and fragile. It makes less sensible the arbitrary division of its
surface into portions that we must think of as sacred. The probes
that have gone well beyond the Moon have revealed planetary dots in
the sky to be worlds. We have stared at the craters of Mercury, the
highlands of Venus, the dead volcanoes of Mars and the living ones
of Io, the swirling storms of Jupiter and the intricate rings of
Saturn. We cannot see all of this without feeling that Earth is part
of an enormously greater whole, and that parcelling out the dust-speck
we live on into mutually hostile sub-dust-specks is worse than mad.
It is ridiculous.
The first quarter century of the Space Age has brought us to the
brink of being able to turn exploration into settlement.
The United States has the space shuttle, a vehicle that can be re-used
repeatedly to bring material into orbit.
The Soviet Union has kept its cosmonauts in space for six months at
a time and shown that they can live and work without ill effects.
It is now planning a space station that can be put into orbit to
make use of the unusual properties of space.