It’s probably safe to say that as long as there have been humans, we’ve wondered about travelling into space – to explore the stars and the planets.
Of course, it’s only been in the 100 years that we’ve been able to get off the ground, after the first manned aircraft took to the skies…
The war required aviation technology to improve and develop – and do it fast.
At the start of the war all planes were propeller powered – but by the end, jet powered planes had been developed and German scientists had developed unmanned rockets to bomb their enemies.
After the war, this technology was developed by scientists and engineers all over the world to improve their space technology and so the space race began.
The superpower nations rushed to create spacecraft which could go further and further – not just into orbit but to the moon itself – something the Americans achieved in 1967.
As well as real space development, science fiction programmes and comics began to dream of what might be possible through inter-galactic travel!
British scientists, excited about all these new possibilities, worked on developing rockets like the Black Arrow and Blue Streak to launch satellites into space.
Whilst the rockets were tested on the Isle of Wight and in Cumbria, they were launched in Australia, and ultimately only one British satellite called Prospero was actually launched using a British rocket before the space programme was cancelled in 1971.
Whilst Britain wasn’t launching rockets, British engineers were closely involved in the development of satellites and new technology – such as carbon fibre, which would help make crafts lighter and stronger.
Today, Britain is just as excited about exploring space – and some people say that there is a new space race with technology improving even more quickly.
A company called Orbital Access is working on spacecraft which will be able to get high enough into the atmosphere to create microgravity conditions.
Microgravity is crucial for helping research medicines and medical procedures, develop new materials for use in space and also undertake experiments around long-duration human spaceflight – important to help astronauts get to Mars.
Then there’s Reaction Engines, another British company who are working on a fully reusable, single-stage to orbit, unmanned spaceplane called SKYLON.
It will use a pioneering engine design that will enable it to reach five times the speed of sound in air-breathing mode and then accelerate to Mach 25 (that’s 18,000 miles per hour) in orbit.
As well as launching satellites, it’s expected to carry spaceflight experience participants, and transport cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.
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