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Space Exploration News

Okay. We’ve put dogs, satellites, a bunch of people and a lot of trash on the Earth’s orbit, an occasional space probe or rover here and there, and we’ve been to the Moon. That’s amazing achievements, but we want more. What’s next for space exploration in 2020s, 2030s, 2040s? We can look forward to moon trips, Mars colonization, rotating space stations and maybe interstellar travel.

  Ongoing missions

  • Juno – A probe sent to Jupiter will descend to the (gassy) surface and send data to Earth before its planned destruction.
    • Mission Status: Juno is orbiting Jupiter alongside three lego minifigures (the god Jupiter, his wife Juno and Galileo Galilei) it dropped there.
  • International Space Station – The biggest collaborative space project in our history worth $150 billion was built for the purpose of scientific research.
    • Mission status: The ISS is currently orbiting Earth and will most probably continue to do so until its scheduled decomission in 2024.
  • Mars rovers – NASA sent robotic cars partly controlled from Earth to explore the surface of Mars. The first one (Oportunity) landed in 2004. The second one (Curiosity) in 2012.
    • Mission status: Both rovers are still working, vaporizing rocks and taking nice pictures of Mars and sending data to Earth. Both missions were extended indefinetely. In 2021, a new rover shall join them.
  • ASE – NASA’s autonomous scientific experiment is a probe launched in 2003 which decides on its own what data to collect. If it sees something happening (eruption on Juper’s moon Io) it takes a photo and sends it back to Earth.
    • Mission status: Still fully active.
  • Voyager 2 – The spacecraft that has been in operation since 1977 and is the only one that has ever visited Uranus and Neptune. It will soon leave our Solar system and enter interstellar space where its predecessor Voyager 1 has been floating for some time now. And what does it do? Take pictures.
    • Mission status: Scientists had to shut off a few of its functions in 1998 to conserve power. Therefore it should keep sending data probably until 2025.

  Curiosities

  • NASA has a shortage of plutonium-238, which fuels deep space probes’ (e.g. Voyager 1) batteries. Source: Scientificamerican.com
  • On Devon Island (barren icy Canadian island) there is a simulated Mars base where a team of astronauts lives and trains for a real mission. Source: Youtube.com
  • There are currently 3 LEGO minifigures made from aluminium orbiting Jupiter, the probe Juno released them there in 2016.

  Future space projects

  • Reusable rockets – So far each rocket can fly to space only once because we can’t land them safely, they just fall into the ocean. That’s not very cost-effective, is it? Companies such as SpaceX (owned by Elon Musk) and Amazon (owned by Jeff Bezos) have thus begun prototyping reusable rockets, e.g. the Falcon 9.
  • New space station – ISS will serve only until 2024, what then? Where shall we play ping pong with water balls and grow space lettuce?
  • Mars colonisation – If we want to survive as a species (and in the process become a galactic empire/republic) we should start with Mars.
    • First we need to send people (NASA prediction: 2030s)
    • Terraforming (possibly melting the ice caps to create an atmosphere)
    • Long-term colonies
  • SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) – We are currently trying to detect any signs of potential alien civilizations using radars on Earth.
  • Breakthrough Starshot – Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milliner teamed up with Mark Zuckerberg to build a nanocraft (it should weigh a few grams) propelled through space at 20% speed of light by solar sails towards the closest star , Proxima Centauri. It should be able to arrive after about 20 years if all goes well. Source
  • Mars 2020 – NASA is planning to send a robot to Mars to collect samples of Martian rocks. It is going to be equiped with a drill and sample tubes, 30 of those tubes are going to be left at Mars for a future retrieval mission. After that, scientists will study them and who knows, maybe we’ll find signs of past life.

  Space Exploration Timeline

  • 1-2 million years BC – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are discovered by Babylonian astronomers.
  • 1822 – After many fights with astronomers, the Catholic church accepts the heliocentric model (=Earth is not the center of the universe)
  • October 1957 – First artificial satellite in Earth’s orbit (Sputnik 1)
  • November 1957 – The dog Laika is the first animal in Earth’s orbit.
  • April 1961 – Yuri Gagarin, the first person to reach outer space, orbits Earth one time and then safely parachutes down.
  • July 1969 – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin successfully land on the Moon and get back to Earth.
  • August 2014 – The probes Rosetta and Philae manuver around the 67P comet and land on it. It will remain functional until November 2016. Fun fact: The man who landed the probe was heavily criticized for the shirt he was wearing during an interview.
  • November 1998 – The International Space Station is launched.
  • April 2016 – SpaceX safely lands a rocket back on Earth for the first time – YouTube (before this, all rockets had to be thrown into the sea, which meant millions of dollars had to go into building them again)

  Awesome Space Videos

First rocket lands without breaking. On their quest to build cheap reusable rockets, SpaceX reached the first important milestone in 2015: Land a rocket booster safely on Earth. Until that day, expensive rocket boosters had to crash into the sea, never to be used again.

LIVE view of Earth from the ISS. This is Earth right now, as seen from the International Space Station. You can see its real-time location at http://iss.astroviewer.net/. So that you know when to wave to the sky and yell: “Ahoy!”

First lettuce grown in space. Take a look at the biggest moment in the history of agriculture. For the first time, people will taste the first food grown off the Earth’s surface.

A song about rockets. Youtube rising star exurb1a composed a brilliant song that guides you through the whole history of rocketry in just 4 minutes. And it’s fun.

Black holes. Stephen Hawking’s favorite space objects. Check out this video by Crash Course to see how they work and where they come from. We recommend watching the whole Astronomy course.

Chris Hadfield blind in space. In this brilliant TEDTalk you’ll find out about astronaut training, keeping your cool when you go blind in open space and hear David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

Tour of the ISS. In this video, astronaut Suni Williams will take you through the deck of the International Space Station. Zero gravity, views of Earth, what do you say now, flat-earthers?

Where are the aliens? Scientists are puzzled that we have had no contact with extraterrestrial life even though there are 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone. Maybe it’s because all civilizations are doomed to destroy themselves, including us.

All about that space. These guys did a great science parody of Meghan Trainor’s “All about that bass”. Because they’re all about that space, about that space…

How to colonize the galaxy? Can you get people to Alpha Centauri in one year? Set up and maintain the first galactic empire?

Carl Sagan: Wanderers. What will it look like when we colonize the Solar System? This will give you chills. Here are more Carl Sagan videos.

What if Armstrong+Aldrin couldn’t return? This is the backup speech President Nixon would read in 1969 if the lunar module failed to bring the astronauts to the Command Module and home.

Also check out these channels and playlists for more exciting and awe-inspiring videos about astronomy and space research: