Space exploration is a subject matter that proves to be as vast and expansive as space itself. From the time of the earliest astronomers, it appears to be human nature to endeavor to explore space, and now, more than ever, space exploration is emerging as a top priority among governments, entrepreneurs and scientists. While the actual science and technology of space exploration are too complex for the average person to understand, the inherent nature of human curiosity, exploration and the instinct to survive are easy to grasp. Even though over the past few decades, it appeared the U.S. Space Program had been all but abandoned, a recent infusion of new ideas, technology, funding, and participants have revived the space industry and paved the way for a new space age in the twenty-first century. At the forefront of space exploration are the current space race to Mars, the focus on the moon, and the obligation to humankind to ensure its very survival.
The planet Mars has been, and will continue to be, a primary focus of space exploration. In fact, the Martian planet is so important that a competition is underway to reach her first, as reported by author Michael Sheetz of CNBC who examines the race between Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing’s United Launch Alliance (ULA). Similarly, Rachel Becker of The Verge reports Mars One is also in competition with SpaceX, and that both these organizations are in competition with NASA and their mission to place the first human on Mars. As represented in both articles, a manned mission to Mars is inevitable. This surety is confirmed by Dr. Michio Kaku, who writes “[t]he questions is no longer whether the U.S. will send astronauts to the Red Planet, but when”, and, as President Trump has directed NASA to achieve this goal by the year 2033, the aspiration to reach Mars has never been higher . While a successfully manned Mars mission appears to be a foregone conclusion, the winner won’t be revealed for another two decades, and, as Becker points out, it’s likely “no single group will have everything it takes to get to Mars”. Igniting a new space race, the Red Planet has a pivotal role to play in determining the future of exploring the galaxies of the universe
While the space community, and the general population as a whole, share much enthusiasm for a mission to Mars, some believe it will first require a waystation on the moon. In an interview, George Sowers of ULA discusses the importance and anticipated benefits of establishing a home base and mining operation on the moon, since the cost of launching a spaceship with adequate fuel supplies is very expensive, “rocket fuel sourced off Earth could be a game changer for spaceflight” (David). Likewise, Dr. Buzz Aldrin, who walked on the moon in 1969, discusses the potential of utilizing the resources of the moon to further space exploration and notes that while the task is challenging, it is worthwhile because “breakthroughs may come” (Shah). Again, this message is corroborated by Professor Ian Crawford who believes a moon station will allow for “ambitious space missions (including human missions) to the outer Solar System”. Additionally, NASA is working to establish a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway which they advise “is central to advancing and sustaining human space exploration (and) human spaceflight goals” (NASA). In contrast, however, the Mars One mission is solely focused on establishing a human colony on Mars, paying little to no attention to the moon, but they also acknowledge their astronauts will not be returning to Earth after embarking on their one-way voyage (Mars One Ventures). Given the research and expertise represented here, the value of using the moon as a stepping stone to Mars is clear, especially to those who wish to return from the Red Planet.
While the efforts of humanity to establish stations, operations and colonies on the moon and Mars are excellent examples of the short-term goals of space exploration, they do not provide the best hope for the long-term survival of the human race. Space exploration must be continued and advanced until habitable exoplanets are located and colonized, a task which will only be possible after the goal of establishing life on Mars has been realized. Upon research, It’s clear the majority of individuals and organizations involved in space research share the sentiments of Astronomer Carl Sagan who is quoted by Dr. Kaku as saying “[i]f our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds” . Whether the human race is facing an Earth-ending, extinction level event in the far distant future as described by Dr. Kaku, or the threat is nearer, like the findings of the Pew Research Center that suggest nearly two thirds of Americans are concerned about the possibility of an astronomical impact event and the potential for life-altering climate change (Funk and Strauss). Likewise in Episode 7, Season 2, of the New Frontier, Dr. Stuart Sykes asserts space exploration is necessary to avoid a catastrophic event threatened by more than 15,000 nearby astronomical objects (Thomson and Sykes). There is a broad understanding that continued space exploration is imperative to the survival of humanity, and as Dr. Kaku writes, “[e]ither we must leave the Earth or we will perish. There is no other way” . In his interview with Vikas Shah, Dr. Buzz Aldrin asserts “… the ‘total survival’ of humanity” rests on the hope and responsibility of space exploration. And finally, Dr. Kaku quotes Stephen Hawking who said “[o]ur only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to reach out into space…as we spread into space…our entire future should be safe” . As evidenced here, it is imperative to support and fund space exploration to protect the future of the entire human race.
Just as it is important to safeguard humanity, it is important to look to experts and review the findings of research from multiple sources to safeguard the integrity of the information on space exploration. The voices and research presented herewith communicate the value of space exploration and describe the current state, and the future, of exploring the galaxy. Using the words and ideas of highly respected individuals like Dr. Michio Kaku, a well-known Physicist, Professor, and author, along with an experienced astronaut like Dr. Buzz Aldrin, ensures the reliability of the information shared. Additionally, the peer-reviewed work of Professor Ian Crawford, and the independent reporting of journalist Michael Sheetz of CNBC, provide a well-rounded approach to the subject matter. While attempting to understand the complex subject matter of exploring space is challenging, the variety of participants and the sheer volume of information available ensures the validity of the claims made. Claims that humans can and will inhabit Mars, and claims that Earths inevitable demise can be mitigated by sending explorers to space.
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