. If they go fast enough, their trajectory curves downward no more steeply than the Earth curves away underneath it – they go into orbit. This picture is still the neatest way to explain orbital flight. Newton calculated that, for a cannon-ball to achieve an orbital trajectory, its speed must be 18000 miles per hour – far beyond what was then achievable.
Indeed, this speed wasn’t achieved until 1957, when the Soviet Sputnik was launched. Four years later Yuri Gagarin was the first human to go into orbit. Eight years after that, Neil Armstrong made his “one small step”. The Apollo programme was a heroic episode. And it was a long time ago – ancient history to today’s young people.
Had the momentum of the 1960s been maintained over the next 40 years, there would be footprints on Mars by now. But after Apollo, the political impetus for manned spaceflight was lost.
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