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The Earliest Space Exploration
By Boris Vasilev

     The earliest space explorers were simply inquisitive people who looked up into the night sky thousands of years ago and wondered, "what is it and how does it work?" Early human understanding of the mysterious firmament above was based on mythology and superstition. Most every early culture had a simple yet elegant story of how the heavens came into being.

       It wasn't until the Greek renascence that some Greek philosophers began to move away from supernatural explanation of the world to a more rational view of how the world and heavens worked. Some time between 700 - 480 B.C. a Greek philosopher known as Thales of Melitas proposed the philosophical concept of rationalism. It was the notion that the world around us could be explained and understood by humans. Until that time the Greeks view of the heaven and earth were based on a belief in a pantheon of Greek Gods who's actions were responsible for all that was.

     Once the notion of rationalism started to take hold many Greek philosophers began to come up with alternate explanations for the inner workings of the sky above. Eudoxus (400 B.C.) proposed that the Earth sat motionless at the center of the heavens and that the stars were attached to an outer sphere. As the sphere rotated on its axes people on earth would observe the rising and setting of the stars and planets.

     As can be seen, not all of the early attempts at explaining the world in rational terms were successful. Most people at that time thought that the world was flat. However the Greek philosopher Aristotle observed that the earth cast a curved shadow on the moon and that the Earth must therefore be a sphere. The philosopher Eratosthenes later used simple mathematics to calculate the circumference of the earth to be about 24,840 miles. The actual circumference is around 24,900.

     Other early Greek philosophers were far more bold in their ideas. Aristarchus proposed a heliocentric model for the universe. He believed that the earth was simply one of several planets that revolved around the sun. Until this time the Geocentric model of the universe was the most widely accepted. Another Greek Philosopher, Hipparchus (150 B.C. - pictured left) has been called the greatest astronomer of ancient times. He accurately estimated the distance from the Earth to the moon . He also created the most complete star catalogue to that time.

    Over time the greatness of Greek culture was superceded by the Roman empire. During this time the works of the early Greek culture began to slip away. As the Roman empier, weary and old, started it's decline the Greek knowledge was lost and all of Europe slipped into a dark age who's grip held firm until the 1500's.

     As Europe had succumbed to the strife and conflict of the middle ages an Arab ruler named Harun-al-Rashid set up a library of ancient works later be called the House of Wisdom. Arab scholars gathered there bringing rescued copies of many of the ancient Greek works which were translated into Arabic. As a result, much of the wisdom and knowledge of the Greeks, although lost to Europe was not lost to the world.

     Around 1500 A.D. the shadow of the dark ages was waning and the Greek works preserved in Arab started making their way back into Europe. This European Renaisance gave witness to some of the most fundamentally important people and works that western culture as ever seen.

     One such individual was Nicholaus Copernicus (pictured right). He perfected and championed the heliocentric view of the solar system. His work went largely unrecognized. The heliocentric view of the heavens was deemed heretical by the church establishment of the time. Starting in 1576 an astronomer named Tycho Brahe started to measure the changing positions of the planets. His observations laid the foundation for one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time.

    In 1600 a man named Johann Kepler used Tycho's observations to create his laws of planetary motion. Our modern understanding of our solar system would not be possible without Keplers laws of planetary motion.

     In 1564 one of the greatest astronomers to ever have lived was born, Galileo Galilei (pictured left). In 1609 he invented the first refracting telescope. With it he began observing the sun and planets in our solar system with a level of detail that no human before him had ever seen. His observations proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Copernican view of the solar system was true. However, just like Copernicus before him, his views were deemed heretical by the church and he was forced to publicly recant what he knew to be the truth.

     Building on Galileo's discoveries was the now legendary Isaac Newton (pictured right). He wondered what forces were at work to keep the planets in their orbits around the sun and the moon from flying away from the Earth. In the process he came up with Newton's three laws of motion. The third is most widely known: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. He also went on to form the basis for our understanding of gravity as the fundamental force binding the heavens together.

   After a intellectual journey of over 2000 years the stage was set and the fundamental tools acquired for the amazing events to come in space exploration. Every adventure into space that humankind undertakes today would not be possible if it were not for those great thinkers and dreamers that filled our past. It is to those that came before us that we owe so much to. They were the first true space explorers.

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