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Space Sparks Renewed Interest

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” These iconic words were spoken by Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969, just after he became the first person to set foot on the surface of the Moon. 

More than 50 years have passed since that momentous occasion, but recent events have sparked renewed interest among people of all ages in that most final of frontiers: space. 

This spring viewers around the world tuned in to NASA’s live stream to watch the little Rover that could – aptly named Perseverance – descend through Mars’ atmosphere to land safely on the surface of the Red Planet after a voyage of nearly seven months. Since its successful arrival, Perseverance has been busily gathering images and samples, seeking signs of ancient life that may once have inhabited our nearest planetary neighbor. 

Many remember the intense spaceflight rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s, better known as the “space race,” and people of all ages today are watching with interest as three billionaires engage in a modern-day space race of their own. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Tesla founder Elon Musk, who together have a combined net worth of $400 billion, have started spaceflight companies in hopes of eventually ferrying citizens to orbit (Branson’s Virgin Galactic), establishing an industrial space base (Bezos’s Blue Origin), or colonizing Mars (Musk’s SpaceX). Virgin Galactic had a successful launch on July 11, 2021. Blue Origin’s flight on July 20 – the anniversary of the first Moon landing – included the youngest and oldest people ever to go to space: an 18-year-old Dutch student and 82-year-old Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk, who trained as an astronaut in the 1960s but did not get to go on a mission because she was a woman. SpaceX has successfully sent crew to the International Space Station, and is preparing for a launch to orbit.

As American billionaires were launching themselves into space, the active Astronomy Club at Monarch Landing in Naperville was concluding their own intergalactic adventure: building a radio telescope, which they unveiled to fellow residents of the active retirement community after months of research and construction during their weekly meetings. The 10-year-old Astronomy Club’s several dozen members include retired scientists and engineers, and the club’s president notes that their device has received radio signals from galaxies as far as 800 million light-years away. Now that’s pretty stellar – interstellar, that is.

Monarch Landing Astronomy Club members and other space enthusiasts have plenty of new developments to look forward to in the coming years, as well. NASA has set its sights on sending people – including the first woman – to the Moon in 2024, and is also working towards sustainable lunar exploration and human exploration of Mars. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station, which marked its 20th anniversary last year, continue to conduct science 250 miles above Earth, leading to breakthroughs in a wide variety of fields such as disease research, water purification, 3D printing and black holes. It’s amazing to ponder how much is being accomplished every day on the ISS, which is often visible to those here on Earth, and it may soon be possible to purchase tourist flights to actually visit the ISS. Talk about a dream vacation! 

From Perseverance’s dramatic landing to the billionaire space race and beyond, it’s an exciting time for space enthusiasts, and even those who just like dramatic, inspiring stories. So why not take a few moments this evening to step outside, look up at the Moon and stars, and marvel at all that has recently been discovered and accomplished – and all that there is to look forward to as humanity continues to aim ever higher?