The Politics of Space Exploration

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The Politics of Space Exploration

The simple commanding beauty of the moments before lift-off—thrusters ignited as dazzling shades of fire and smoke shatter the dreams of the sleeping rocket, contrasted by a flawlessly infinite blue sky and heightened by an almost surreal apprehension—depict the dramatic perfection that is space exploration. This image frozen in time, however captivating and serene, often overshadows the hidden agendas and secret dealings that go on behind the scenes. In reality, the probing of space has just as much to do with politics as with mankind’s actual zest for knowledge. From promoting national status through international competition, to dealing with internal and organizational issues, to improving public relations, the policy of space exploration is modeled after the politics of the day.

First restricted to military purposes, space travel was an unattainable aspiration of dreamers. During World War II, while Wernher Von Braun was designing V-2 rockets for the Germans, he privately yearned to transform Jules Verne’s fiction of space travel into fact. Outer space, however, did not fit into the Führer’s master plans; Hitler’s singular desire was to produce an “annihilating effect” through the V-2's capability for mass destruction. Even after the war, when Von Braun was working for the Americans, his plans to put a human into space were thwarted—again he was required to design rockets for the military and was forced to place interplanetary travel on a back burner.

Another visionary whose galactic ambitions were overshadowed by the practicality of the day was the Russian Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. He developed the Soviet Union’s first liquid-fuel rocket, the .09, but like Von Braun was...

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...face the fact that politics is an enormous part of space past, present, and future.

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