What is Space Travel?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
US astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
US astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

Space travel is a form of travel in which passengers enter space, the vast region outside the protective envelope of the Earth's atmosphere. Space starts 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth's crust, at a point called the Karman Line, and it continues for a distance that appears to be infinite, interrupted periodically by celestial bodies such as stars, planets, and so forth. Humans have long had romantic associations with traveling in space, with people considering space “the final frontier,” as they famously say on Star Trek.

Space shuttles were manned, reusable launch systems that could land like aircraft after delivering payloads to orbit.
Space shuttles were manned, reusable launch systems that could land like aircraft after delivering payloads to orbit.

Humans have been intrigued by the night sky for centuries, tracking the movements of stars, planets, comets, and other features in the sky and pondering the mysteries of the heavens. In the 20th century, the fascination with space took on a whole new level of excitement when humans successfully launched manned spacecraft out of the Earth's atmosphere, putting astronauts in space and on the Moon. With the proof that manned spaceflight was possible, the concept of space travel began to seem less like a pipe dream and more like a reality, and private companies began to enter the field, developing space planes and offering commercial flights.

The International Space Station houses several astronauts at any given time.
The International Space Station houses several astronauts at any given time.

In the 20th century, travel in space was restricted to astronauts who worked for various governments, and it was primarily performed for research purposes. It allowed people to collect samples from the Moon, maintain space telescopes such as the Hubble Telescope, and eventually to perform research on the International Space Station, a structure that orbits the Earth and houses astronauts from several nations at any given time.

Alan Shepard was the first American man to travel in space.
Alan Shepard was the first American man to travel in space.

While space travel for research is certainly admirable and important, many people are more interested in the potential for it as a form of recreation, tourism, or exploration. Civilians began purchasing tickets for tourist flights into space in the early 2000s, sometimes going on brief suborbital flights in which they barely entered space, and sometimes spending several days in space, exploring the International Space Station and enjoying the experience of being in space.

Space probes and future manned spacecraft can use the mass of one planet, such as Jupiter, to help reach other planets, like Saturn, using a "gravity assist" or "gravitational slingshot", as was done with the Pioneer and Voyager probes.
Space probes and future manned spacecraft can use the mass of one planet, such as Jupiter, to help reach other planets, like Saturn, using a "gravity assist" or "gravitational slingshot", as was done with the Pioneer and Voyager probes.

The potential for space travel is infinite, just like the universe, bounded only by human technology. Many people hope that the dreams of science fiction, such as massive ships which can travel between galaxies, will someday be realized. People might explore the rest of the solar system and galaxy, learning more about the nature of the universe and potentially leading to a discovery of life beyond the boundaries of Earth.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon993211

Thank you for helping my friends and I with our project.

anon293777

@Qohe1et: Well yeah, but who knows? Maybe in the future we might get to this spiritual world, but who knows? It might be very soon, and it might be a very long time.

Qohe1et

@ShadowGenius

Sounds like a spiritual realm to me. I'm just saying it, I know everybody else is thinking it. I know that doesn't sound too "academic," but I'm sure it will be common knowledge in the near future. We now know for sure that science as we know it can only go so far.

ShadowGenius

@Leonidas226

New innovations and theories are being presented which build off of the intuitive approach fostered by Einstein, Cantor, and other great thinkers like them. These models think outside of the box. If there are other distant worlds beyond our own space-time continuum, they probably wouldn't exist "physically" beyond our universe, but would envelop and transcend our universe in ways that we really can't understand, except by analogy.

Leonidas226

How could we ever know that space is the final frontier? From quantum physics and cosmology we have already gathered that rules change depending on where you are in space, and that our theories of particles are not consistent. It seems to be the case that we are simply trapped inside a projected dimension. There are other dimensions which we don't even know how to reach, and it is likely that they exist everywhere, beyond our perception. It could also be that they are beyond our universe in a physical sense.

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    • US astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
      US astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
    • Space shuttles were manned, reusable launch systems that could land like aircraft after delivering payloads to orbit.
      Space shuttles were manned, reusable launch systems that could land like aircraft after delivering payloads to orbit.
    • The International Space Station houses several astronauts at any given time.
      The International Space Station houses several astronauts at any given time.
    • Alan Shepard was the first American man to travel in space.
      Alan Shepard was the first American man to travel in space.
    • Space probes and future manned spacecraft can use the mass of one planet, such as Jupiter, to help reach other planets, like Saturn, using a "gravity assist" or "gravitational slingshot", as was done with the Pioneer and Voyager probes.
      Space probes and future manned spacecraft can use the mass of one planet, such as Jupiter, to help reach other planets, like Saturn, using a "gravity assist" or "gravitational slingshot", as was done with the Pioneer and Voyager probes.
    • Theoretically, multi-generational spacecraft could be used to reach another star system.
      Theoretically, multi-generational spacecraft could be used to reach another star system.
    • In the future, space travel may take humans to other planets.
      In the future, space travel may take humans to other planets.
    • Many people are interested in space travel as a form of recreation or for tourism.
      Many people are interested in space travel as a form of recreation or for tourism.