What’s our future in space?
We’ve been to the moon, but it doesn’t seem like we’ve done much since. To get a good idea of what to expect, maybe we need to look into our history in space.
Christopher Ingraham wrote an article for the Washington Post titled “What humanity’s history in space tells us about our future in the stars.” He begins by giving a little bit of the history of humans and space travel: how many launches we’ve done between 1957 and present day, how much of the federal budget is dedicated to NASA in that time frame. Harvard astrophysicist Johnathan McDowell has a database that lists all known attempts of space launches – roughly 5,730 launches.
The space age began after Russia’s space program launched Sputnik. The number of launch attempts peaked in 1967 with 143 rockets launched into orbit. The activity remained high in the 1970s and 1980s, then began to decline in the 1990’s. This decline that we see could be caused in part by the 1986 Challenger explosion. Seeing this explosion on live television doesn’t really give space launches a good look. The budget dedicated to NASA also declines significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. I guess there’s not much of a hurry to make advancements in space when you have no competitors.
We’re still active in sending things to space, as you can see in the earlier graph. Ingraham attributes some of this to private companies. Private companies, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, have been making space launches; SpaceX has completed 15 successful launches in 2017 alone. Ingraham mentions that sending things into space is also like a routine, claiming that “humans have attempted to shoot something into space about once every four days this year, with a success rate greater than 93 percent.” It’s good to see that we’re still active in space. Maybe we’ll make it off this planet before we completely ruin it.
What’s in the future?
It seems that we might be moving from a government-funded space program to several individual, privately-funded space programs. With the low budget dedicated to NASA (projected to be less than 0.5%), it makes sense that privately owned companies would step in to take over space travel. The Trump administration, however, claims to want to send people to the moon. Two privately-funded space explorers/companies have big launch plans for the future: SpaceX wants to send a crewed mission to Mars in seven years, and Jeffrey P. Bezos’s Blue Origin plans to send tourists into suborbital flight by 2018. These are some pretty exciting prospects.
What does it mean for everyone else?
Yeah, I’m a nerd for space, so I think space and the prospects of space travel are cool, but what about everyone else? Why should anyone else care about space travel? I’d like to start by being a pessimist: we, the human race, aren’t going to be around on Earth forever, and with the way we treat the planet, we’re going to be gone sooner rather than later. Space travel allows us to look beyond our planet for home. If we continue to improve and advance our space travel, there might even be the potential for space exploration.
We can get into all the realistic space movies out there. Round two on a new planet because we destroyed our first home. Mining and resource collection on other planets because we used up all of ours. Traveling just for the sake of traveling. Space travel has the potential to provide so much for us. We can get a fresh start, or try to fix what we’ve screwed up, or even just travel because we want to. It’s possible that people could live the same way they do now, except they’re on a different planet, or there’s the opportunity that traveling between planets becomes the new traveling to a different continent. The possibilities are exciting, but we need to continue space travel and funding to get there.
We need space travel for a backup plan when we screw up our own planet so bad that it becomes inhabitable. But, we also need it to fuel our curiosity and need for adventure.