Sputnik turns 50, NYT science section pays homage

The entire Science section in the New York Times today was devoted to the space age, honoring the 50th anniversary of Sputnik. Russia launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957.

This is really a tremendous spread — about 10 articles, plus lots of multimedia stuff — and I can't stop reading it right now, even though it's late in the day and I should be eating or sleeping.

John Schwartz has a wonderful piece in here about what might be ahead for the next 50 years in space travel: Link. About today's special edition, he tells BoingBoing:

The top story is by John Noble Wilford, the NY Times reporter who wrote the story beginning "Men have landed and walked on the Moon." [Ed. note: Oh snap.]

Just about every story in the section is tied to the theme, and there is plenty of video with a beautiful interactive graphic that shows Sputnik inside and out.

Link to the section.

Here's a snip from "New Horizons Beckon, Inspiring Vision if Not Certainty", presented next to a video interview with Schwartz:

NASA has embarked on a program to return to the Moon by 2020, not just for what some critics call "flags and footprints," but also for a lasting presence with scientific research and preparation for expeditions to asteroids and, eventually, Mars. The space shuttle program is being wound down by 2010 to create the next generation of vehicles.

Other nations, notably Russia and China, have ambitious plans and could spur a space race like the one that sent Americans to the Moon. "It took Sputnik for us to recognize what the Soviet Union was up to," said Harrison H. Schmitt, who flew the last mission to the Moon, in 1972. "I don't know what it will take this time."

Private enterprise is moving ahead, beginning with space tourism and, later, transport services for NASA and other governments to outposts like the International Space Station. Beyond that, ventures could include mining on asteroids and manufacturing drugs in space.

John M. Logsdon, director of the space policy institute at George Washington University, says a big question has yet to be answered. "At the level of government, I think we're still struggling as to why we're sending people to space," Dr. Logsdon said. "It's a decent question, and I think it's an unanswered question."