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Monday, October 25, 2004

Brazil Launches First Rocket into Space

Brazil's Failed VLS Rocket
Brazil's Failed VLS Rocket
Credit: INPE
Despite the deadly failure of a previous launch attempt in August 2003 that set back Brazil's space program significantly, Brazil yesterday successfully launched its first rocket into space. This is momentous for many reasons.

Traditionally the Southern Hemisphere, Latin America included, has been behind the Northern Hemisphere in terms of technology, power and prestige. This launch is a sign of the changing times and the growing power of these countries. Brazil, the largest and most wealthy country in South America, is in or near the top 5 richest countries in the world, yet has not wielded the significant influence that other countries do. This remarkable technical achievement will certainly increase Brazil's influence in the world and raise a signal that it is a major player in world events.

Brazil is ideally positioned as a platform for space launches. The Earth spins fastest at the equator, leading to a reduced cost to reach escape velocity, which translates into cheaper launches and larger payloads. The ESA takes advantage of this fact by using launch facilities in nearby French Guiana, and the United States and Russia both use their southernmost territory to launch from. Brazil's launch facility, being only a couple of degrees from the equator, should have the cheapest cost to orbit of any other facility. This makes Brazil into a serious contender for launching commercial payloads, as long as they can develop the technical expertise and success record that is necessary to attract investments.

In recent years, Brazil has come under fire for going to space while there are still so many domestic problems that it needs to address. This is similar to the calls in India, China, Russia, and elsewhere, and must be denounced for what it is. Were we always to try to solve problems at home before making steps forward, we would always be stuck looking at our world with its never-ending, petty squabbles, and we would miss completely the awesome majesty of Olympus Mons, the breathtaking beauty of Europa's frozen seas, and the sober glimmer of the stars. There is a place for introspection, and there is a place for taking bold steps forward. We must not lose sight of the basic human imperatives of exploration, and the many advantages that it confers.

(More info: Washington Times)

- posted by Brian @ 17:08 EST