Policies and Resources


Space exploration is the investigation, by medium of crewed and non-crewed spacecraft, of the reaches of the universe beyond Earth’s atmosphere and the application of the information so gained to increase knowledge of the cosmos and benefit humanity.

Humans have always looked at the heavens and thought of the nature of the objects seen in the night sky. With the development of rockets and the advances in electronics and other technologies in the 20th century, it became possible to send machines and animals and then people above Earth’s atmosphere into space. Well before technology made these achievements possible, however, space exploration had already captured the minds of many people, including aircraft pilots, scientists, writers, and artists.

Achieving spaceflight enabled humans to begin to explore the solar system and the rest of the universe, to comprehend the many objects and phenomena that are better observed from a space perspective, and to apply for human benefit the resources and attributes of the space environment. All of these activities – discovery, scientific apprehension, and the application of that comprehension to serve human purposes – are elements of space exploration.

Inspirations for space activity

Space exploration programmes have increased knowledge, served as indicators of national prestige and power, enhanced national security and military strength, and provided significant benefits to the general public. In the early 21st century, entrepreneurs believed that there were several other areas of commercial potential in space, most notably funded space travel.

Most space activities have been pursued because they serve some utilitarian purpose, whether increasing knowledge, adding to national power, or making a profit. However, there remains a powerful core sense that it is necessary for humans to explore space for its own sake, ‘to see what is there’.

Science in space

Space science adds a new dimension to the quest for knowledge, complementing and extending what had been gained from centuries of theoretical speculations and ground-based observations. In particular, the presence in space of humans as experimenters and, in some circumstances, as experimental subjects facilitated studies in biomedicine and materials science. However, most space science was, and continues to be, performed by robotic spacecraft in Earth orbit, in other locations from which they observe the universe, or on missions to various bodies in the solar system.  

Scientific study in space can be grouped into five fundamental areas:

  1. Solar and space physics, including study of the magnetic and electromagnetic fields in space and the various energetic particles also present, with particular attention to their interactions with Earth.
  2. Exploration of the planets, moons, asteroids, comets, meteoroids, and dust in the solar system
  3. Study of the origin, evolution, and current state of the varied objects in the universe beyond the solar system
  4. Research on non-living and living materials, including humans, in the very low gravity levels of the space environment
  5. Study of Earth from space.

The goal is to obtain comprehensive sets of data over significant time spans of key physical, chemical, and biological processes that are shaping the planet’s future. Space development, the practical application of the capabilities of spacecrafts and of the data collected from space, has evolved in parallel with space exploration.