Forty years ago on Thursday, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.
Gagarin had been in training as a cosmonaut for just a year and 29 days, but for only the last two of them had he known he would be the first man in space.
What is our future in space? Will we ever put a human being on Mars? Will we ever put another person on the moon?
BBC News Online's science editor Dr David Whitehouse has answered a selection of your questions on 40 years in space.
It is remarkable that it is 40 years since Gagarin's flight. But what real progress has there been in the past 20 years? Can we really look
forward to a man on Mars, tourists in space and establishing a moon base
within the next 40 years?
If we had the political will we could certainly establish a
permanent base of the moon within a short time - say ten years. After all we
have already been there.
As for going to Mars that would be more difficult(it's a year away and not three days like the moon) but we could get to Mars
but who knows how much longer would the time scale be.
But your point is a good one. In the 40 years since man first ventured into
space for only FOUR of them has man ventured away from Earth orbit - and he
hasn't done that for 29 years!
Is it true that astronauts on a mission to Mars would die of radiation
poisoning before they got half-way, and that there's currently no way to
shield them from it?
To a certain extent yes, a crew could not be completely protected.
Radiation exposure in space is certainly a problem. Some believe that you
can design a spacecraft with sufficient shielding from bulkheads and fuel
tanks to protect a crew - but it would not protect them from a really big
solar flare. Radiation damage may be an unavoidable occupational hazard of
How long do you think it will take for man to go further than Mars?
Definitely not for 25 years and who knows how much longer. At the
current rate of disinterest in manned exploration of the solar system
perhaps 100 years - perhaps longer.
Mrs Sarah-Jayne O'Kane,
Why has no one followed Armstrong et al onto the moon? Surely there must be
something of interest there, rather that spending millions on doomed
missions to Mars? The rumours that it was all a hoax sound all the more
believable as no one else has been back.
It was no hoax, twelve men did walk on the moon and many more
astronauts were willing to follow. But the US government decided that after
they had beaten the USSR to the moon they could better spend the money
elsewhere. But we should go back - there are wonders awaiting us on the moon
- we have just camped there for a few days - we hardly know the place.
Personally I would like my children to witness a manned mission to the moon.
Do you feel that the lack of a major goal is hampering NASA? Whilst the ISS
may provide some good science it does not exude the feelings of exploration
and dangerous adventure as would, say, a manned mission to Mars. Also would
you agree that there's no real rival to the US in space at this time, and so
is dampening funding for space exploration?
You are right. The space station is a base in space and not an end
in itself. To get space exploration going again we need a goal - a
destination. To me Mars is too far away and too expensive. I believe that we
have to return to the moon first. Only a return to the moon will excite
people about space again, I believe. Perhaps China's growing space
programme, and the prospect of a Chinese astronaut will rekindle a kind of a
'space race.' Perhaps if China said it was sending a man to the moon the US
would be stirred into action?
Belgium (living England)
The Americans seem superior in the area of space exploration. Could we
expect that other nations will reduce the gap in the next 40 years?
For the moment, the main objective for NASA seems to be to reach Mars. What
about the aims of the others space agencies around the world?
What about the ESA?
Yes NASA is pre-eminent. Only if the cost of actually getting into
space is reduced by using a new generation of rockets that perform more like
aeroplanes will it be really opened to others. The European Space Agency
(ESA) does some remarkable stuff but lacks the critical mass to have an
effective manned program. Russia's space effort is in decline, for the time
being but keep an eye on China.
I think the Russian space program died with the destroying of the MIR space
station. My country has no money to provide new space researches.
Do you think the Russian Space Programme can be revived?
Yes. The Russian passion for space will never be fully extinguished.
Your space program will have to wait for your economy to rise but I believe
that eventually you will be back. Without a strong Russian space exploration
program we are not really exploring space for all mankind.
With the decline in world economics and the increasing costs of manned space
flights, do you think that robotic scouts will become more popular in space
missions, or will the ISS be the launch pad of more and more manned
We have to have both, robots and humans. If we design our unmanned
probes properly we may all be able to go to the moon or mars or chase a
comet. Data returned from these probes combined with virtual reality
technology could allow us all to see what it is like.
Although I think technological developments in areas such as space
propulsion systems (JPL's Deep Space 1 is a good example) is increasing
rapidly and will mean space probes will be able to travel further and
operate longer than ever before I do not think we will have the technology
to send man to Mars within the next 40 years due to problems such as body
mass depletion (both bone and muscle) in space, radiation exposure, disease
control and the ability to carry enough food, water and oxygen to sustain
human life for 3 years in space.
What are your thoughts?
Astronauts who do to Mars may suffer
health problems when they return but there is no shortage of volunteers.
Richard K. McCardell,
Rigby, Idaho USA
Do you think that manned space exploration has much of a future? Don't you
agree that much more has been learned from unmanned space exploration and
that such exploration is much less expensive.
No question. Much has been learned from unmanned probes. They are
cheaper and faster and can go further. But a robot scuttling around on the
moon (or Mars) is not anywhere near as exciting or inspiring or indeed as
meaningful as a man or woman actually being there. To my mind space
exploration only really means something if people go there and come back and
tell us about it.
In the last century, the Americans and the Russians have explored space. The
Russians have built a space station (now demolished) and the Americans are
just doing the same at present and each of them spent billions of Dollars.
What has space exploration ever given us?
Mankind has benefited enormously from space travel. You cannot put a
price on the spirit of discovery and the thrill of exploration and our
participation in history. For the bits you can put a price tag on space has
yielded a profit; Communication and weather satellites make money. Remember
money spent on space exploration is spent on Earth, as salaries, in
communities and to develop high technology. President Bush (the old one)
once said that project Apollo (the moonlandings) was the best return on an
investment since Leonardo da Vinci bought a sketchpad.
It is truly amazing the developments that have occurred in the last 40
years. Given the fact that most informed people on the planet are concerned
about humanity and ecology, do you think that space exploration can be of
great benefit? We are in the process of destroying one planet, do you think
we should perfect our own habitat before we go beyond it?
I think we can do both. While we learn to be good stewards of our
home world we should explore other worlds. In learning about other worlds we
actually learn how to take better care of our own planet. One of the great
lessons of the space age is that we can only appreciate our planet by
looking at it from the outside and see what a rare and precious place it is.
In a way we had to go into space to find our place on Earth.
A new theory for the origin of the Universe is intriguing astronomers with
the idea that a "Big Splat" preceded the Big Bang, (the 'M' theory). Do you
think that, as well as exploration of our own universe, we would, be able to
find the door to parallel universes and explore those also?
Who knows what the future will bring? Perhaps one day human
explorers will not just reach out to the nearby planets and stars but set
sail on voyages of exploration into other dimensions, other times and
perhaps voyage to other universes.