It’s been almost 50 years since the words ‘That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind’ were spoken. To celebrate this accomplishment, we can now watch the launch and moonlanding of the Apollo 11 in 3D. These images from the past, summon the same thrilling experience we now get by talking about missions to Mars, asteroid mining and commercial spaceflight.
Armstrong’s walk on the Moon is part of our collective conscience, but we shouldn’t forget the milestones that we passed in getting there: the first human-made object in space, the first living object in orbit, the first human spaceflight, the first spacewalk, etc. Many of which are feats of the Soviet space program in the sixties, during the Cold War.
Nowadays, there are more and more governmental space agencies involved in space exploration: e.g. Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO), European Space Agency (ESA), Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). But the list of non-governmental entities is also growing rapidly, with SpaceX, Planetary Resources, Bigelow Aerospace, Mars One and Virgin Galactic as interesting players.
The Space Race
In the next two decades both the Moon and Mars will receive human visitors. This will be a combined effort of many space agencies. All in all, very ambitious plans: Mars One, is planning to send four people to Mars by 2027, ESA is looking to put a permanent base on the Moon and NASA is studying the effects of living in isolation for future space missions.
Other notable endeavors include plans for commercial spaceflight by Virgin Galactic, asteroid mining by Planetary Resources and space-based solar power which is actively pursued by Japan and China.
Problems and solutions in space exploration
There are many problems space agencies face in space exploration, problems which may occur on departure, in-flight and on arrival. Take for example the growing number of space debris in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO); broken shards and pieces of space shuttles and satellites are adrift in LEO and pose a risk for both the ISS and everything passing through. One of the companies concerned with space debris, Astroscale, is working on a micro satellite that cleans up space debris by gluing it to the satellite’s head and reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Another challenge is in the form of sustainable space food; astronauts now eat pre-prepared food that was cooked on Earth and sent into space on a rocket. However, if humankind wants to realize its ambition of traveling further into the solar system it need to find ways to create food and air while surrounded by the nothingness of space. See how far space agencies have come in space farming.
Oh, and don’t forget to watch the video made by Luke Geissbühler telling the story on how he and his son made their own spacecraft.