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To be spacefaring is to be capable of and active in space travel or space transport, the operation of spacecraft or spaceplanes. It involves a knowledge of a variety of topics and development of specialised skills including: aeronautics; astronautics; programs to train astronauts; space weather and forecasting; ship-handling and small craft handling; operation of various equipment; spacecraft design and construction; atmospheric takeoff and reentry; orbital mechanics (a.k.a. astrodynamics); communications; engines and rockets; execution of evolutions such as towing, micro-gravity construction, and space docking; cargo handling equipment, dangerous cargoes and cargo storage; spacewalking; dealing with emergencies; survival at space and first aid; fire fighting; life support. The degree of knowledge needed within these areas is dependent upon the nature of the work and the type of vessel employed. "Spacefaring" is analogous to seafaring.
Until now, there has never been a crewed mission outside the Earth–Moon system. However, the United States, Russia, China, European Space Agency countries, and a few corporations and enterprises have plans in various stages to travel to Mars (see Manned mission to Mars).
Spacefaring entities can be both sovereign states and private corporations. Spacefaring nations are those capable of independently building and launching craft into space. A growing number of private entities have become or are becoming space faring.
Crewed spacefaring nations
Currently Russia and the People's Republic of China are the only two crewed spacefaring nations. The United States government ceased crewed space missions in July 2011 after STS-135. The U.S. is currently developing new crewed spacecraft, and many U.S. private businesses are in the planning and development stage of private crewed space flight.
Spacefaring nations listed by year of first crewed launch:
Uncrewed spacefaring nations
The following nations or organizations have developed their own launchers to launch uncrewed spacecraft into orbit either from their own territory or with foreign assistance (date of first launch in parentheses):
- Soviet Union (1957)
- United States (1958)
- Canada (1962)
- Italy (1964)
- France (1965)
- Australia (1967)
- Japan (1970)
- China (1970)
- United Kingdom (1971)
- European Space Agency (1979)
- India (1980)
- Israel (1988)
- Ukraine (1991)*
- Russia (1992)*
- Iran (2009)
- North Korea (2012)
- South Korea (2013)
- New Zealand (2018)
* Previously the major part of Soviet Union
Note that a larger number of countries other than those listed above have launched suborbital spacecraft, and could also, in a loose sense, be considered spacefaring. If one considers merely launching an object beyond the Kármán line to be the minimum requirement of spacefaring, then Germany, with the V-2 rocket, became the first spacefaring nation in 1942.
Also several countries, such as Canada, Italy and Australia, had semi-independent spacefaring capability, launching locally-built satellites on foreign launchers. Canada had designed and built satellites (Alouette 1 & 2) in 1962 & 1965 which were orbited using US launch vehicles. Italy has designed and built several satellites, as well as pressurized (crewed) modules for the International Space Station. Early Italian satellites were launched using vehicles provided by NASA, first from Wallops Flight Facility in 1964 and then from a spaceport in Kenya (San Marco Platform) between 1967 and 1988; Italy has led the development of the Vega rocket programme within the European Space Agency since 1998. The United Kingdom abandoned its independent space launch programme in 1972 in favour of co-operating with the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) on launch technologies until 1974. Australia abandoned its launcher programme shortly after the successful launch of WRESAT, and became the only non-European member of ELDO.
Non-governmental suborbital flights
A number of private organizations are developing crewed spacefaring missions, though still largely suborbital. Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie of Mojave Aerospace Ventures are the first such private individuals to achieve suborbital space travel status. A range of organizations including UP Aerospace are also planning private launches, while others such as SpaceX plan eventually to launch crewed orbital missions.
General space civilization
Generally, a planet-based civilization might have varying levels of difficulty in reaching space. Both the planet's gravity and atmosphere influence the ease of space exploration. Gravity on a more massive planet would generally make it more difficult to launch a spacecraft into orbit. The effects of atmospheric friction on the craft must also be taken into consideration, as well as the amount of resources, including exotic materials possibly needed for construction of a spacecraft. Generally, only a species or civilization capable of interplanetary and/or interstellar flight is considered[by whom?] "truly" spacefaring. In fiction, such civilizations often possess colonies, either in their home system or possibly other planetary systems. As of present-day technology, humanity would not be considered[by whom?] a space faring civilization because interplanetary travel, even within the Solar System, has not yet been achieved by an actual living human. Many probes and non-human relays have been dispatched throughout the system and in outlying space however.
Spacefaring in popular culture
Science fiction often deals with more advanced spacefaring cultures, and the opportunities and challenges that this might bring to such societies.
One example is Star Trek, where humanity, though already spacefaring, is still struggling to adapt to interstellar life, and in many cases, politics.
An additional example would follow the premise of science fiction author Larry Niven. In his short story, The Fourth Profession Mr. Niven postulates the arrival of a spacefaring culture of traders that depend in part on the technical sophistication of the civilizations being visited to build the requisite launch lasers to accelerate their mothership to the next star system. Cultures lacking resources to achieve crewed spaceflight are ignored as animals.
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