Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[410] Vannevar Bush characterized science as the "endless frontier." Science showed space to be another endless frontier. The allure of these two in combination imparted a natural impetus to space science in its early years. Benefiting from the powerful political forces of the Cold War and the concern generated in the United States by the Soviet launching of Sputnik in October 1957, scientists in the United States were given resources by the nation sufficient to tackle an impressive array of problems not previously tractable. By the time of the Apollo missions the number of space scientists around the world had risen into the thousands.
But so vast a subject as science in space and the science of space could hardly be more than touched upon in one or two decades. While magnetospheric physicists might speak of their results in the investigation of Earth's magnetosphere as comprehensive, not one would think of the subject as closed. There still remained in the early 1970s the problem of understanding the processes and complex interrelationships. Also there were the magnetospheres of the sun and Jupiter, and perhaps of other planets, to investigate, the study of which would inevitably turn attention to the magnetospheres of stars and planets beyond the solar system.
While comparative planetology had quickly revolutionized the earth sciences, expanding their scope from Earth to the solar system, here again the new discipline had hardly reached its adolescence as unmanned spacecraft of the 1970s began their probing of the major planets and their satellites. Other decades would have to pass before comparative planetology could be said to have matured.
Although the failure to find life on Mars in the first Viking missions was disappointing, it seemed clear that interest in exobiology would continue. For one thing, many scientists believed that the processes leading to the formation of life are inexorable, and that there must be innumerable examples of extraterrestrial life to be discovered if only one knew how to find them. This belief would lead to various schemes to communicate by electromagnetic means with living beings beyond the solar system. Within the solar system, even if only Earth had living beings, still the chemical evolution of the other planets and satellites would be important in studying evolutionary steps toward life.
With the discovery of x-ray sources, space science made a unique contribution to the newly emerging field of high-energy astronomy. While some might label the evolution of x-ray astronomy in the 1960s as revolutionary, others would feel that the most significant contributions of space astronomy still lay ahead.
[411] Thus, space science in the 1970s retained a considerable momentum, with the prospect of challenging and important problems to work on for the foreseeable future. For a few years the diminishing urgency of the space program appeared to pose a threat to space science. But, with the decision to proceed with the development of the Space Shuttle, a renewed commitment to space science seemed ensured. It would not be an easy road, and all the signs indicated that in the future the need for specific space projects would be carefully weighed by both administration and Congress. But few doubted that the program, including space science, would continue at some pace. Indeed, there seemed little doubt that at some time men would land on the planets, as they had once landed on the moon.