It seemed as though space exploration was fizzling out and many were left wondering if we would ever venture further out to space again or was our love affair with space coming to a close?
Space and Mars missions have come back to the forefront with tourism missions to the moon in their test stages and a manned mission to Mars planned for 2030.
Professor Ian Crawford, Professor of Planetary Science and Astrobiology at UCL believes it will be a long time before we will conduct a manned mission to Mars and that more could be discovered if humans were able to travel there. “Long term, the exploration of Mars could be tremendous if conducted in the same way as Antarctica, with human outposts and drilling.” said Prof. Crawford.
Ever since NASA took us on a ground-breaking journey to the moon, space exploration has felt within our reach.
Back in 1969 families huddled around their black and white television boxes in their living rooms to witness Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins take those first iconic steps onto the moon. Ever since we have been fascinated with the possibilities of space exploration.
Whether you believe the conspiracy theories or not, one thing is certain, the future of space exploration was monumentally altered at this moment. People now perceived that missions into space were not purely something to be read in sci-fi novels but something tangible and fathomable.
Authors, such as, H. G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs were colossal in the predictions portrayed in their novels about space travel and the inhabiting of other planets.
For decades it was believed that Mars contained water and some form of life, “Mars’ spectrum, its color in the near infrared, mimics that of vegetation. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, they concluded that was evidence of chlorophyll, and Mars had vegetation,” said Josh Bandfield, a Mars expert and planetary scientist at the University of Washington.
Although Virgin founder Richard Branson still believes it may be possible, “In my lifetime, I’m determined to being a part of starting a population on Mars,” said Branson. “I think it is absolutely realistic. It will happen.” Although others may disagree with him.As a race we seem to have a lasting obsession with space and particularly with our neighbouring planet Mars. “The nature of people’s interest in Mars has evolved in the last 50 or 60 years, but it’s never entirely vanished,” said Bob Crossley, emeritus professor of English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and author of the book Imagining Mars: A Literary History. “Somewhere deep in my own psyche, and maybe for other people as well, there is a desire for another world,” he said. “For me, the deepest meaning of Mars is it represents some kind of longing for something outside ourselves, something outside our own world.”
People’s love affair with space was instilled further with iconic shows like Star Trek and films like Star Wars, with a new addition to the Star Wars Legacy announced earlier this month.
In 1972, NASA chose to abandon any future moon missions due to funding cuts. The missions to the moon started out as a political battle, with the US keen to beat the Soviet Union to the moon. After they won the moon race, despite returning several times, there was no real mission to accomplish. After which, missions into space focused more around the launching of space stations, which was first accomplished by the Russians in 1971. More recently the focus has shifted to sending probes and satellites out into space to delve further into our galaxy in order to better understand the planets and comets within it.
Richard Branson announced his plans to man commercial missions to the moon with the founding of the Virgin Galactic project back in 2004. Originally he aimed to see the maiden voyage take place at the end of 2009 but several delays have moved the date further back. The most recent set back was the SpaceShipTwo, VSS Enterprise when a test flight on the 31 October 2014 over the Mojave Desert in California resulted in the craft breaking up. The causes were stated as a yet unidentified “in-flight anomaly” with test pilot Michael Alsbury losing his life and Peter Siebold being seriously injured.
Every man, woman and child is likely to have dreamt of growing up to be an astronaut although only a small number of people have actually achieved it. It may now seem possible for everyone to someday become an astronaut as Branson explains, “It’s going to be absolutely incredible because finally people…ordinary people will be able to have a chance to become astronauts, go into space. There are only 500 people who have ever been into space. They are the privileged astronauts…we just want to enable people to become astronauts and experience it.”
Eyes have turned further skyward again, as sights have shifted back to the red planet, which has fascinated so many for centuries. At the beginning of December 2014, NASA announced their plans to send people to Mars in 2030s. Just days ago the Orion test flight was launched and has safely returned to Earth.
Not everyone is so keen on further missions into space. Author, explorer and campaigner Robin Hanbury-Tension said in a debate about space exploration in Engineering and Technology Magazine, “The amount of money being spent on space research is in the billions and it has achieved extraordinarily little except for a bit of improved technology which would probably have come about anyway by other means.” He believes the money used to fund space expeditions could be better used to create better sustainability on Earth.
The news of a manned mission to Mars within our lifetime has excited many and with blockbuster movies such as Gravity and Interstellar, both released this year bringing space travel back to the forefront of our minds. Our obsession with space travel has been re-sparked, and travelling further into space may become a reality sooner than we thought.
Feature photo courtesy of Cosmobc