55 years ago today, the Space Age began with the successful launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union. Today there are thousands of satellites in orbit, an International Space Station, rovers on Mars, robotic probes in orbit around Mars and Saturn, and others on their way to Pluto, Jupiter, Ceres, and the far reaches of the Solar System. 45 years ago next Wednesday, the United Nations Outer Space Treaty went into effect. This agreement helped lay the groundwork for the peaceful use of space and the growing level of cooperation among nations in space related activities. While national rivalries are not going away anytime soon, the theater of space remains non-militarized and powers that cooperate on little else (Russia and the U.S. come to mind) will often work together on space issues. These two events book-end one of my favorite annual celebrations, World Space Week.
Starting in 2000, the second year Space Week was recognized, I started an article series in honor of it which has continued with some modifications every year since. This year, however, I'm going to have to put it on hiatus since there is just too much else going on in my life right now to devote that amount of time to research and writing. The one exception to that will be my meditation on what I call the Cosmic Perspective, which will appear sometime during Space Week proper. But even tough the article series is on hiatus Space Week remains and we can all do fun things to acknowledge and celebrate how space activities effect our lives as well as the great promise space exploration and development holds for the human species.
The official theme this year is Space for Human Safety and Security, and highlights the role that satellites play in emergency response, weather forecasting, law enforcement, and other pursuits where having eyes in orbit helps to protect lives and property. So next time you notice a spy satellite passing overhead, make sure to smile and wave for the cameras; the intelligence analysts huddled in their underground bunkers will appreciate the gesture of goodwill.