When the Soviet Union launched its "October surprise" in 1957, it began a space race with the United States largely driven by politics and fear. Now, as the 50th anniversary of the October 4 launch of Sputnik 1 rolls around, the face of space exploration has changed dramatically.
Today, Russia and the United States continue to lead the rest of the world in research and space flight. The two nations have put more than a hundred astronauts (not to mention plant seeds, fruit flies, and a dog named Laika) into space. And what began as Cold War competition has since turned into cooperation, resulting in a state-of-the-art experimental lab orbiting Earth that's hosted researchers from around the world and contributed to scores of scientific studies. More than a dozen countries have since contributed technology, research and manpower to further the work being done at the International Space Station.
But it's not just governments making strides in space. Frustrated with the pace at which NASA has worked since its "golden age" in the 1960s and '70s, several well-funded entreprenuers are taking it upon themselves to make commercial space travel a reality. A handful of private companies are making plans to bring tourists on suborbital flights and even to set up floating space hotels.
Meanwhile, much of the technology that's been developed to facilitate space exploration has benefited business. The commercial satellite market has turned into a multibillion dollar industry, albeit one with an uncertain future. And some of the most significant things to come out of Silicon Valley have their roots in NASA labs.
In this multipart series, CNET News.com looks at how space exploration has evolved and how it has affected private business, as well as the state of the satellite industry and how governments and private businessmen are struggling to define their roles in space.
Day 1: Private industry moves to take over space race
The space race taking shape in the private sector today is due in large part to boyhood dreams of becoming astronauts.
Day 1: Space entrepreneur shoots for the moon
Space Adventures CEO Peter Diamandis talks about the future of private space travel to the moon and beyond.
Day 1: Key milestones in space exploration
A timeline of some of the events that brought humans into space and will guide where we go next.
Day 2: Silicon galaxy
Technologies developed by NASA have led to some of the most important commercial innovations to come out of Silicon Valley.
Day 2: The satellite age
The commercial satellite market has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry, but future growth could suffer.
Day 3: Do we need NASA?
Is NASA still worth spending more than $16 billion in taxpayer money each year?
Day 3: Designing a 21st-century space suit
MIT professor Dava Newman tells how the form-fitting BioSuit will help give NASA a ready-to-wear outfit for the moon and Mars.
Memories from the space age
CNET News.com readers (and writers) share their memories from the early days of space exploration. October 5, 2007
Japan probe approaches moon
A new space race is getting under way, with as many as five nations expecting to land hardware on the moon within five years. October 4, 2007
Who's who in space travel
The private sector is laying the groundwork for a new era of space exploration. October 3, 2007
A half-century of space flight
We take a look at how the ships that enable space exploration are evolving. October 1, 2007
Strange visitors to other planets
The first Voyager spacecraft left Earth 30 years ago. Now, nearly 10 billion miles from home, they aren't finished yet.August 28, 2007
Building a better space suit
At MIT and the University of North Dakota, researchers are trying out new designs to clothe astronauts heading to Mars. July 18, 2007
Stellar views from the Hubble at 17
NASA and ESA celebrate the Hubble Space Telescope's anniversary with colliding stars and supernovas.April 25, 2007
The race to space: Recalling Sputnik
The Baltimore Sun
Science Times special coverage
New York Times
The next 50 years in space
Happy birthday, Sputnik! (Thanks for the Internet)
Thank Sputnik for today's orbital freedom
Christian Science Monitor
Editors: Jennifer Guevin, Jim Kerstetter
Design: Andrew Ballagh
Production: Madeleine Kempton
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