“The universe is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. The cosmos is within us and we are all made of star stuff.” Perhaps that’s why mankind has always been fascinated with the heavens and stars for centuries and millennia in antiquity. To learn more about the world we live in, our solar system, galaxy and the immeasurable and ever expanding scale of the cosmos as a whole.
March 18th 2015, marks the historic day of fifty glorious years of human space exploration. It was on this day in 1965 that a Soviet cosmonaut Lt Col Alexei Leonov became the first man to “walk in space” and perform an EVA (Extravehicular Activity). The Spacewalk as it was called, lasted twelve minutes in which he performed a somersault after existing from his craft Voskhod 2, and also took five photographs on the mission, while he was tethered to it.
Prior to this on October 4th 1957, the Soviet Union had already launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 into the Earth’s orbit, beating the United States in its intention to do so. This not only paved way for fierce rivalry between the two countries but also led to the swift and rapid development in technology and research for space exploration and human spaceflight. Today, we have come a long way since the days of the Sputnik and Luna missions. When in April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, going beyond Earth’s escape velocity where no man had ventured before.
Looking back over our shoulders, it a proud moment for us to reflect upon the achievements accomplished in this field during the latter half of the twentieth century. The notable milestones that we’ve achieved since the inception of the idea of space exploration are forever etched in history. From being the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova) to the Apollo moon landings, our relentless thirst for knowledge about the dark spaces that engulf our world, has taken us where man had only dreamed of going before. This curiosity to know what lies beyond is the driving force behind sending numerous probes and missions to distant worlds, which only serves to better our understanding of the Universe around us and to determine our own position in it. So here’s looking at some of NASA’s recent planned missions through 2030:
LADEE (Sept 2013)
Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – This 150 day long robotic mission will orbit the moon, gathering information on the lunar atmosphere and will help scientists better understand other planets.
MAVEN (late 2013)
Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission – Mars may not always have been dry and dusty. MAVEN will shed light on the planets past climate by exploring its upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar winds.
Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (2014)
Using four identical spacecrafts variably spaced in Earth’s orbit, this mission will investigate how the sun and Earth’s magnetic fields connect and disconnect.
New Horizon (2015)
The spacecraft launched in 2006, embarking on a decade long journey to mysterious Pluto more than three billion miles away. It will make its dramatic flight past the icy planet and its moons in July 2015.
Juno (late 2016)
Travelling at a velocity of 19 miles per second, Juno is in hot pursuit of Jupiter to study its structure and unveil its history. Juno is set to reach the giant planet in 2016.
This discovery mission will place a lander on Mars to look deep into the planet’s interior. By drilling underneath its soil, scientists hope to better their understanding of Mars’s evolution as a rocky planet.
Transiting Exoplanets Survey Satellite – Using telescopes, TESS will search for transiting exoplanets ranging from Earth- size to gas giants. Its ultimate goal is to identify terrestrial planets in habitable zones of nearby stars.
Solar Probe Plus (2018)
This extraordinary and historic mission will explore what is arguably the last region of the solar system to be visited by a spacecraft; the Sun’s outer atmosphere.
James Webb Telescope (2018)
The next generation successor to Hubble will find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way galaxy.
Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer – After travelling three years, the spacecraft will approach a 1900 feet primitive asteroid named “1999 RQ36”. It will use a robotic arm to pick samples for return to Earth in 2023.
Mars Rover (2020)
NASA’s next rover will look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible return to Earth and test technology for future human exploration.
Manned Mission to an Asteroid (2025)
In 2010, U.S President Barack Obama announced plans for sending humans to an asteroid. Using data from OSIRIS- Rex, NASA hopes to enable astronaut missions as early as 2021.
Manned Mission to Mars (2030)
Ten years after NASA lands its 2020 rover, the agency hopes to send humans to Mars. President Obama in 2013 committed to getting an astronaut to the Red Planet in the 2030’s.
Besides these planned missions there are other equally ambitious endeavors such as Mars One, which is a non- profit organization, led by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2023. The first planned flight of the mission begins in Jan 2016 with 4 crew members. The first round of the selection program began in April 22, 2013 and Mars One received over 200,000 applicants from over 140 countries to become the first human settles on the Red Planet. Those selected will under go 8 years training for physical and electrical repairs, confined agriculture and medical upkeep. However, there is no technology for a return flight, so space travelers will never return to Earth, although every two years an additional group of 4 colonists will arrive.
As we step forward into the next phase of human space exploration we should bear in mind that “science works on the frontier between knowledge and ignorance. Not afraid to admit what we don’t know. There’s no shame in that. The only shame is to pretend that we have all the answers.” The Earth is our only life supporting planet that we know of. There is a reason why we call it Mother, as it sustains and nurtures us. It is our duty to look after it so that we do not perish as a species. And to quote Carl Sagan ~ “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”