The European Space Agency Explained

The European Space Agency:When people are asked to name the “big players”
of the space industry their minds usuallygo to the United States and Russia, and maybe,
as of more recently, China. But believe it or not: the European Space
Agency, ESA, spends almost twice as much moneyevery year as it’s Russian counterpart who
in turn spends more than twice as much asthe Chinese. This means that ESA is second only to NASA
when it comes to money spent on space. Yet no European astronaut has ever stepped
on the moon, and ESA has never had their ownspace stations or space shuttles. In fact, ESA has never actually sent a human
into space. So what exactly is the European Space Agency,
and what have they been doing with all thatmoney?Well, like many things in Europe, ESA is very
complicated. However, greatly simplified: It’s an organisation
in which a bunch of countries collaboratewhile also having their own national space
agencies. Sort of like a European Union of Space Travel. The ”European Space Research Organisation”,
as it was called then, was founded just asthe space race was heating up. However, as opposed to its contemporaries,
the ESRO’s purpose was never to “boldlygo where no man had gone before. ”They decided instead to focus on unmanned
spaceflight. But in the beginning the budget was low, so
they started out small:While the US and the USSR raced to the moon,
The Europeans were launching rockets thatjust barely touched the edge of space, collecting
scientific data before falling back to earth. Because of this, the first Europeans in Space
were not astronauts. . but cosmonauts. However, the ESRO eventually decided that
they couldn’t be a space agency withoutastronauts forever, so they struck a deal
with NASA:The Europeans would build an attachable lab
unit for the brand new space shuttle, In return,some ESA astronauts would get to tag along
into space. European astronauts ended up being an occasional
part of the Space Shuttle program, from thebeginning to the end. However, even as they collaborated with NASA
the ESRO did not believe that the Space Shuttlewould be capable of filling the space-launching
needs of every government and organisationin the world, as the Americans promised. In 1975 The ESRO was merged with another agency,
the European Launcher Development Organisation,and was given its current name. This also meant that they inherited a mission
to develop an independent European launchsystem. The rocket that resulted became known as the
Ariane, and it turned out pretty well. Ariane had the benefit of being capable of
sending two satellites into orbit at once,making “two for one” deals possible and
saving a lot of money. Another great advantage ESA had was it’s
amazing space port. Guiana Space Center lies just north of the
equator, an ideal position for putting satellitesinto orbit, as many of them are supposed to
go around the earth’s equator. The Europeans decided to go with the more
classic kind of rocket and it paid off:The American space shuttle, though undoubtedly
extremely cool, never quite became the cheapspace-trucking service it was supposed to
be, and Ariane would end up being a betteroption if you wanted to get your payload into
space for a good price. The day-to-day launch operations of the Ariane
were handed over to a subsidiary company calledArianespace, who became the first commercial
launch company, although it was owned by governments. They would go on to lead the commercial launch
market until being blown out of the waterby SpaceX. But for now, with astronauts in space and
a shiny new rocket ready for launch, ESA turnedagain to its original purpose:Since then they have, among other things:Flown by comets, catalogued stars, found tons
of exoplanets, orbited and studied Mars, Venus,the moon and the sun, and landed on Saturn’s
moon Titan. They’ve measured all sorts of gamma rays
and magnetic fields and worked with NASA ontons of projects including the famous Hubble
Space Telescope. In one of their more “high profile” missions
they bounced a probe around the solar systemfor a decade performing advanced gravity-assist
manoeuvres before landing it on comet. . . and the future will be no less exciting,
over the next few years ESA plans to:Study Dark Matter, look for more exoplanets,
orbit mercury with two probes at once, landa rover on Mars, look for life on Jupiters
icy moons, and launch the successor to Hubble,the James Webb Space Telescope, which it also
helped build. In short, ESA have been, and will continue
to be, a frontrunner of the unmanned spaceexploration scene. Along the way there have occasionally been
plans for a real European manned spaceflightprogram. For a while, “the Columbus Program” promised
a European space station travelled to by asmall space shuttle called the “Hermes”. The program was eventually cancelled but part
of the proposed space station became the Columbuslab that is now a part of the International
Space Station. To which, nowadays, ESA astronauts travel
all the time. Although, like all the rest of them, they
ride Russian Rockets. Last but not least, perhaps the biggest contribution
ESA has made to mankind, and where most ofits budget goes to nowadays, is earth science. A lot of what we know about our planet and
it’s environment comes from the countlessESA satellites that have been, metaphorically,
picking apart the earth for decades. That kind of mission doesn’t bring you the
glory that raising a flag on the moon or constructinga billion dollar space station does. However they’re important all the same. ESA has always been more than happy to take
the backseat in the human spaceflight contestand fly their awesome probes and satellites
under the worlds radar.

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