Since the discovery of the world beyond our Earth, humans have been enthralled by the idea of space travel to other planets. Since the first manned mission to the moon in 1969, which could be said to be the spark that began all things space travel related- humanity has been looking for the next big breakthrough in the field of space technology to allow us to go further. The focus for the past few decades:Up until the last few years, all space related programs and missions were organised and made possible by governments in different countries. In addition to that since the last human mission to the moon, all of our operations in space have only focused on low Earth orbit. But before any further insight, first an explanation is required for as to what low Earth orbit is. The low Earth orbit is approximately at an altitude of ‘between 320 and 380 km above the surface of the Earth’. Matt Williams, Universetoday.com, 24 Jan 2017 In fact, the low Earth orbit is where the international space station and the hubble space telescope is located at. Despite being very high up in terms of distance, it is not very high up in comparison to other orbits. The disadvantages of having these satellites and other objects so close to the Earth’s surface is that there is atmospheric drag. The amount of atmosphere is too little to be able to breathe for humans but it is definitely enough to apply a small amount of drag force on things that are in the orbit. This causes the satellites or spacecrafts to gradually slow down which allows gravity to pull the object down towards the Earth. However, recently there has been a sudden rise in the private sector that is allowing low space explorations to not be only run by the government. Companies such as Virgin Galactic are allowing civilians to be able to go into low Earth orbit for a not too expensive price. Within the next 1 or 2 years, people who want to visit space will be able to get a view of the Earth from above for a cost of $250,000. As time passes, trips to space will become increasingly common which will cause the prices to decrease- opening the gates to more affordable space travel in the future. Since the private sector is starting to more and more take on NASA’s duty of researching and creating new technology for low Earth technology, the aims of bigger companies with larger budgets can be more focused on exploration beyond the Earth. “If others are able to take that on, then we can concentrate on exploration and discovery, which are what we’re here for” NASA’s associate administrator, Doug Cooke, in an interview with Space.comMars:Even though now NASA will be able to focus on other manned space travel to other parts of space, the future of manned exploration is still not clear yet. For example, although the mission to colonize Mars by 2027 was a big step the technology that would be required for such a big task is still being researched and developed by scientists and engineers. What is more likely to happen is that NASA will have to decide to improve their current technology by testing it on the moon or asteroids. According to NASA, the thrusters and propulsion systems vehicles will need to be developed in order to cope with the six month journey to Mars- taking into account the crew that will be inside of the vehicle. “The biggest first step is a heavy lift vehicle. It’s incredibly important. We’re going to have to launch the equivalent of the full up space station that we currently have in orbit to get to the Martian surface and back” NASA’s associate administrator, Doug Cooke, NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Having said that, not only will the actual internal technology of the vehicles need to be improved and upgraded to enable for manned space travel to Mars and beyond- advancements in the communication system will need to be vastly progressed. This is vital to prevent drops in quality when reporting back to Earth from Mars which could result in miscommunication. Additionally, many other factors such as upgrading robotic technology to offer assistance to the astronauts with things such as scanning the perimeters and drilling. It is certain that NASA’s current targets are to “test its new deep space exploration system” and to “develop new technologies and techniques and apply innovative approaches to solving problems in preparation for longer-duration missions far from Earth” Brian Dunbar, Nasa.govThe data we have until now has proven that there are enough resources on Mars to sustain human life. There’s several reasons why Mars will likely be the next planet humans are going to explore and eventually colonize before any others. The options that we have in the solar system is very limited. The only other celestial body in orbits that are close to Earth other than Mars is Venus. However, the temperatures on Venus soar to around 400 degrees and the pressure is equal to being immersed 900 metres below water on Earth. Moreover, there are occasional long periods of acid rain and the night lasts for around 120 days. This definitely means that until we develop vastly better technology to help cope with the demands of planets such as Venus, this planet will remain out of the list for manned space travel due to its unsuitable climate and environment. There is also Mercury. Unfortunately, the extreme temperatures means that Mars would still be a better option (430 degrees celsius during the day, minus 290 degrees celsius during the night). There is also the other planets and their moons (Saturn and Jupiter) but they are extremely far from the Earth which makes it impossible to send humans over there with our current day technology. This leaves only Mars which is quite suitable for exploration and human settlements as firstly water and other raw materials can be found beneath the ground- which means humans won’t have to transport raw materials from Earth. Additionally, the gravitational pull on Mars is 38% of that on Earth which is considered by many scientists to be good enough for the human body to adapt to. Lastly, the lengths of the day on Mars is really similar to the Earth’s (24 Hours, 39 Minutes, 35 Seconds).As stated on NASA’s website by Brian Dunbar, Nasa is planning on testing its newly developed space exploration system which will start with using an integrated and crewless ‘Orion’ spacecraft. This spacecraft’s first flight will be crewless in order to test its deep space exploration system and to improve it- laying the groundwork for future missions with humans onboard and allowing advancements for the basic needs required to enable a journey to Mars. This mission (Exploration Mission- 1) will remain in space longer than any spacecraft designed for crew members has ever done without docking at a space station. Orion will travel at a certain trajectory to go about 100 km above the surface of the moon, then using the moon’s gravitational force to sling Orion into a new opposite orbit approximately 70,000 km from the moon. Over there Orion will gather data and enable the mission operators to analyse and evaluate how successfully Orion is performing in the new environment. At the very furthest, Orion will be 270,000 miles away from Earth. The Orion spacecraft will use solar panels which are attached to its sides in order to absorb the energy from the sun and thereby converting it to useful electrical energy to power the spacecraft. After spending six days there Orion will return to Earth by using the same technique, taking advantage of the moon’s orbit and propelling itself back on course to Earth- landing into the Pacific Ocean near the San Diego coast.Having said that, other space companies other than NASA are also constructing big plans to make manned space travel to Mars possible. The most notable is SpaceX. Their billionaire CEO Elon Musk has unveiled his plan to colonize Mars. This vision revolves around a reusable rocket and spaceship combination that Elon Musk has named the Interplanetary Transport System. The thrusters and the entire spaceship will be powered by the Raptor engine which is still being developed by SpaceX. It is said that this engine will be around three times stronger than the Merlin engines used to power another one of SpaceX’s spacecrafts, the Falcon 9 rocket. The interplanetary transport system rockets will launch the spaceship to the Earth’s orbit, then it will return back to land on Earth. Elon Musk has said that in the future he intends to have 1000 or more interplanetary transport system spaceships leaving the Earth’s orbit every time they have a batch of people going to Mars- each spaceship carrying approximately 100 passengers. If this plan does indeed work, it could potentially transport 1 million people to Mars within the next five to ten decades. The key to why this method of manned space transport is promising is because of the one factor that separates the interplanetary transport system to every other current mode of space transport- it’s reusability. The key to the the interplanetary transport system is that the costs of accomplishing this endeavor is much more affordable due to the fact that the ships will be able to fly back from Mars, using their soon-to-be developed raptor engines. This means that each interplanetary transport system spaceship will be able to function perfectly for around 12 to 15 deep space journeys during its machine lifespan. This is a massive innovation from our current spacecrafts and in the present the spacecrafts will almost immediately have to be replaced after one mission to space. Nevertheless, Elon Musk has stated that “There is a huge amount of risk. It is going to cost a lot… there is a good chance we will not succeed, but we are going to do our best and try to make as much progress as possible” Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceXThe motives for space exploration:There are many reasons why humans will have strong incentives to try and explore new planets and moons. One of them is that the Earth’s natural raw minerals and resources are starting to lessen and the demand for more is getting higher every day due to the increasing population and use of energy. This will give many companies and space government agencies a motive to go to space and perform explorations in order to find planets and asteroids to gather resources and forge a permanent form of mineral supply. In fact, just in July of 2015 the planetary resources (an asteroid mining company) sent out its first spacecraft with the eventual goals of deploying a batch of increasingly improving probes to go asteroid mining around orbits of planets in the next few years. The vision of planetary resources is that they will be able to use the raw materials found in asteroids to turn it into rocket fuel and eventually harvest expensive metals from the rocks. “We have every expectation that delivering water from asteroids and creating an in-space refuelling economy is something that we’ll see in the next 10 years- even in the first half of the 2020s” Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources president and chief engineer This plan centres on the fact that water is found in abundance in a type of space rock known as carbonaceous chondrites. However, this asteroid derived water can not only be used for drinking purposes. It can be split into its constituent elements which are hydrogen and water (H20) and allow passing spaceships to be refuelled if needed. Furthermore, carbonaceous chondrites contain many metals such as cobalt, iron and nickel which means that if materials are needed on other planets or space bases- it could simply be supplied by asteroid mining instead of transporting it all the way from the Earth. It it because of all these reasons that it is very likely that humans will definitely undergo a massive increase in space travel to other planets and their orbits. Every new frontier on Earth that we as humans have decided to explore in the past has been to find new sources of resources, as otherwise we would have stayed because of the sufficient resources available to us. It is no different to what will eventually happen when the Earth’s resources start to dwindle and become insufficient.
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