Having grown up in the sixties, space exploration was at its zenith and television meant that through NASA and UK-based programmes like Tomorrow’s World and the Sky at Night, we could keep track of the wonderful leaps of knowledge at the edge of humanity’s understanding.
Although much research has continued unabated, there was the feeling in the seventies that the public appetite for space sciences was waning and that the falling television audiences were one explicit factor in the cancellation of the Apollo programme. That is the sole reason that on my page’s profile picture I can stand next to an Apollo module and a Saturn V launch rocket at the Johnson Space Center in Houston – had the programme not been terminated – these would have been expended in space.
The public imagination was caught again with the Shuttle and International Space Station. The ability to track the ISS in its Earth orbits maintains a constant state of interest for many.
However, even in what were deemed ‘quiet times’ the relentless mapping of space and scientific experimentation has continued unabated. The manned space programmes have been simply the tip of the spear of continued exploration. Many would argue, and the current debate regarding venturing to Mars bears this out, that man is probably the weakest link in such a scientific endeavour.
Of course, NASA is not just about manned space flight. Many missions have investigated our solar system and our galaxy, flying with technical experiments and precision scientific measuring devices which can investigate space across the whole spectrum of radiation.