Undeniably the advent of the space age has changed our culture and society in numerous ways. However, no specific technology, discovery, or breakthrough from space exploration deserves the honour of being called the field’s greatest innovation.
What space exploration HAS given the human race, however, is a steady, continuous look at the unknown, making us all like children again seeing the universe for the first time. Every space probe has done this. Weather satellites gave us our first global look at the Earth’s climate. Space telescopes showed us the first sharp pictures of the heavens. Unmanned spacecraft provided us our first detailed views of our solar system. And the manned missions to the Moon allowed the entire human race to experience what it is like to explore new worlds and go where no-one has ever gone before.
Nor is there any end in sight to this journey of exploration. For as far into the future as any of us can imagine, the frontier of space will provide us an untouched horizon to strive for. And from this journey into the unknown will come a stream of unexpected innovations far greater than anything we can ever conceive.
Robert Zimmerman is the author of Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the quest for interplanetary travel (buy this book from Amazon(UK)) and Builders of Hubble (forthcoming). View his website here.