The Bizarre Logic of Extraterrestrial Projects
On November 26, 1965, on the edge of the Sahara desert in northwestern Algeria, at 10:52 local time, a rocket left the launch pad of the French air force’s CIEES ballistic testing facility (close to the village of Hammaguir) and successfully placed its 42 kilogram payload into Earth’s orbit. The A-1 satellite—known as Astérix, after the popular French comic strip character—joined another 400 or so other satellites that had been launched into space during the preceding eight years.
Although late to the game of space exploration (in December 1964, Italy had beaten France to fifth place with its San Marco 1 satellite). Astérix demonstrated that France was a serious player. Not only had the national space agency [the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES)] succeeded in designing and building its own satellite, it had also used its own satellite launching technology—a Diamant A rocket—to put Astérix into orbit. At the time, except for the United States and the USSR, no other country had this capability. (In January of this year, New Zealand became the 11th nation to reach this milestone.)
Today, there are around 19,200 objects in Earth’s orbit, of which about 1,500 are operational satellites. The remainder are the accumulated debris of previous space missions. Such is the hazard this presents to other
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