The future of space exploration seems brighter now than it has for some time. This isn’t to say that it hasn’t always been bright. It has. Granted, manned missions have not gone far since Apollo 17. Many of us envisioned, at that time, that the near future (today’s present) would see outposts on the Moon, Mars and possibly beyond.
That didn’t happen. Funding has been an issue. More could be said about that, but let’s stay positive. Space programs around the globe have not been idle, and the march of technology has proceeded in countless satisfactory ways. There is, for instance, the International Space Station. Satellites now affect everyone’s everyday life (GPS, for example). Even better, there has been a steady stream of successful unmanned missions collecting data, fueling discoveries, and demonstrating the profound capabilities of the engineers, designers, manufacturers and mission specialists that continue to make us proud. To mention just two of the fun ones in the public sector:
Engineering marvels, both of them, and there are many more. Each project is unique, but time and again advances in technology and engineering provide breathtaking examples of how far we have come. It’s easy to conclude that manned exploration and utilization of space resources can be done better, cheaper, faster and safer now—which is exactly what is happening in both the public and private sectors. For instance, Mars:
- Public Sector: At least two agencies, ESA and NASA, have plans to send affordable manned missions to Mars. Both agencies have targeted the mid-2030s.
- Private Sector: SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, recently made a big splash by elaborating publicly on plans to make Mars colonization affordable.
Planned unmanned missions are just as intriguing. Two noteworthy examples, among many:
- Public Sector: NASA plan to visit an asteroid and put a piece of it in lunar orbit. Astronauts and robotic missions will be able to visit and study the chunk in the comfort of Earth’s celestial backyard.
- Private Sector: Breakthrough Starshot. Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking are planning to send a fleet of tiny probes to our closet stellar neighbor, the Alpha Centauri star system, at close to 20% of light speed project that has received increased attention now that an Earth-sized planet has been discovered orbiting Proxima Centauri, one of the stars in the Alpha Centauri triple-star system.
Mars and beyond are clearly within sight. It is an exciting time to be alive.
Future Topic: What about the Moon?
There are many online sources reciting the case for, and against, a return to the Moon. A few are linked below. Keep in mind, if you review them, that it might not be a question of whether we should so much as whether it should be in the public or private sector, and the obstacles each face.
- The Case Against the Moon: Why We Shouldn’t Go Straight Back
- The Case for the Moon: Why We Should Go Back Now
- Should We Go Back to the Moon?
- Is Nasa secretly planning to go back to the moon?
- The Real Story Of Apollo 17… And Why We Never Went Back To The Moon