It was the 20th July 1969, and the whole world held its breath as Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. More than half a billion people watched that “giant leap for mankind” live on their television screens. With its Apollo 11 mission, the USA had won the race into space, and the 20th July was proclaimed International Space Exploration Day to commemorate the achievement. Space research is concerned with exploring the universe, e.g. by observing, remote sensing and probing heavenly bodies, but also by conducting experiments here on Earth that can be transferred to conditions in space.
The German Centre for Aerospace (DLR) is the German player in the international network of space research. The DLR explores space, and plans and implements German space-travel activities. However, the DLR’s scientists also conduct research here on Earth, supplying knowledge that is of use in conserving the environment and developing environmentally sound technologies for energy supply, mobility, communications and security. Because, whether the issue is climate change, land degradation, biodiversity or natural disasters – taking a “look from above” provides completely different insights into the challenges that humans face on Earth.
For example, scientists can observe from space how sea levels are developing or how much rainforest is being cleared. Similarly, the distribution of greenhouse gases throughout the world, which is directly linked to deforestation, is mapped from space. Furthermore, people get very practical help for their everyday lives from space: “Observing the Earth by satellite helps us understand our living environment better,” says Gerd Gruppe, DLR executive board member and responsible for aerospace management. “It is thus one of many space technologies that are of use to us in everyday life: navigation for mountain bikers, football broadcasts by satellite, or emergency mapping for disaster relief workers.”
International Space Exploration Day, 20 July