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Origins of space flight

Space exploration rests on three foundations with equally ancient roots: astronomy, rocketry, and the insatious dream of flight.

Articles and photography by Anatoly Zak; Editor: Alain Chabot

Origins

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ASTRONOMY

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Astronomy

Astronomy: a prequel to space flight

Over many centuries, the idea of space travel has been taking shape with the humanity's improving understanding of the Universe. Before flying machines could attempt to escape the Earth's gravity, generations of astronomers had been building a realistic stage for space exploration, while their tools served as the earliest space research instruments.

Astrometry

Visual history of astronomical tools

At the dawn of the recorded history, the earliest human civilizations had already watched the positions of stars to track the calendar, to navigate on land and at sea, to foretell the future and to understand the Universe. Astronomers in ancient Greece are credited with designing some of the earliest tools for measuring and predicting the positions of celestial bodies.

EARLY ROCKETRY (under construction)
aeolopile

Reactive principle

The principle of reactive motion was first demonstrated in ancient Greece as early as 360 BC. The Noctes Atticae (Attic Nights) by Aulus Gellius described a hollow model of a pigeon moving on a string with the help of water steam. In the first century AD, Heron of Alexandria is attributed the invention of a steam-powered reactive machine.

Gunpowder

Origins of rocketry

The first rockets apparently owe their origin to the invention of gunpowder in China around the 10th century AD. According to the earliest reliable records, in 1232 AD, the defenders of at least one Chinese city fired rockets against the Mongols.

rockets

Reaching Europe

It is believed that around the 13th Century, knowledge of rocketry reached Italy and France. In the following centuries, fireworks rockets became popular throughout Europe, including England, Germany, Ukraine and Russia.

congreve

Congreve's rocket

In India, Mysorean princes began using battlefield rockets made of metal in the late 18th century, particularly in the battle of Serigapatam against the British in 1799. Their devastating effect inspired a British artillery officer William Congreve at Woolwich arsenal near London to organize the mass production of rockets.

rockets

The golden age of rocketry

Following Congreve, William Hale and Edmund Boxer further refined the rocket's design, turning it into a formidable weapon. During the 19th century, battlefield rockets appeared in several European armies and navies and also spread to the Americas.

SCIENCE FICTION (under construction)
lune

Dreaming of flight among the stars

Over the centuries, numerous writers recorded tales of imaginary voyages to the Moon and other planets. These fantastic stories were slowly shaping into increasingly realistic visions of space travel, thanks to better understanding the cosmos and the emergence of new technologies.

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