Space exploration is the process of researching and discovering the universe beyond Earth's atmosphere. It involves the use of both manned and unmanned spacecrafts to explore the boundaries of space. In the 2000s, China launched a successful manned space flight program, while other countries such as the European Union, Japan, and India have also planned future manned space missions. Private interests have also begun to promote space tourism and private exploration of the Moon.
The reasons for exploring space vary, but some of the most common include advancing scientific research, uniting different nations, ensuring humanity's future survival, and gaining military and strategic advantages over other countries. After two decades of exploration, the focus shifted from one-off flights to renewable hardware such as the space shuttle program, and from competition to cooperation with initiatives such as the International Space Station (ISS). Space exploration has often been used as an indirect competition for geopolitical rivalries such as the Cold War. Space exploration is a continuous process of discovering and exploring celestial structures in outer space through evolving and growing space technology. The first era of space exploration was driven by a “space race” between the Soviet Union and the United States.
The launch of Sputnik 1 by the USSR on October 4, 1957, and the first landing on the Moon by Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969 are considered milestones of this early period. Although astronomy predates recorded history, it was only with the development of large and efficient rockets in the early 20th century that physical exploration of space became possible. Astronomers use telescopes to study space, while physical exploration is done with both unmanned robotic probes and manned space flights.