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The Future Of Space Exploration

Updated on August 23, 2016

Skylab Man's First Step

Skylab from its launch on May 14,1973, until the return to earth of its third and final crew on February 8,1974, proved that humans can live and work in outer space for extended periods of time. Pete Conrad, Paul Weitz and Joe Kerwin spent 28 days in orbit as the first crew of Skylab. The second crew which included Alan Bean, Jack Lousma and Owen Garriott spent 59 days in space. The final Skylab crew set new spaceflight duration records living 84 days in space. The record set by the final crew wasn't broken by an American astronaut until the Shuttle-Mir program more than 20 years later. Skylab served as the greatest Solar observatory of its time, a microgravity lab, a medical lab, and an Earth-observing facility, and a home in space for its residents. The Skylab program led in the advancement of new technologies. Special showers, toilets, sleeping bags, exercise equipment and kitchen facilities were designed to function in microgravity. Original plans called for the station to remain in space after the final Skylab mission, possibly for another 8 to 10 years and visited by the Space Shuttle fleet. But unexpectedly high solar activity foiled the plan and on July 11,1979, Skylab re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated, dispersing debris across a sparsely populated section of western Australia and the southwestern Indian Ocean.

The International Space Station (ISS)

The International Space Station a view from the Space Shuttle.
The International Space Station a view from the Space Shuttle. | Source

Skylab

Skylab as it circles the Earth.
Skylab as it circles the Earth. | Source
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Blueprint of Skylab
Blueprint of Skylab | Source
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Picture of Solar Flare from Skylab.
Picture of Solar Flare from Skylab. | Source

The Space Shuttle Fleet

The Space Shuttle fleet would later be used to build the ISS (International Space Station) which is still in use today, the human race's grandest achievement up to this point in time in history. NASA's space shuttle was unlike any other spacecraft built during the 30 years the program was in operation. Unlike the much smaller capsules of the Apollo era, which was launched on the tips of rockets and returned back to Earth splashing into the ocean, the jetliner-sized shuttle was designed to streak into space using powerful boosters and return to Earth as a glider. The craft's aerodynamic winged shape allowed it to descend through the atmosphere and touch down on a runway, much like a commercial airplane. While in orbit, the Space Shuttle circled the planet at a speed of 17,500 miles an hours, which made it the fastest man-made craft to ever fly. A Shuttle crew could see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes as it circled the Earth. The Shuttle was used extensively to build the International Space Station, it would take over a decade of spaceflights and crews to assemble the station.

The Space Shuttle Fleet

Space Shuttle Atlantis as it blast off at full power.
Space Shuttle Atlantis as it blast off at full power. | Source
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Space Shuttle could land like a conventional airplane.
Space Shuttle could land like a conventional airplane. | Source
Space Shuttle loaded with parts to the International Space Station.
Space Shuttle loaded with parts to the International Space Station. | Source

The History of the Space Shuttle

The International Space Station (ISS)

The International Space Station is a very unique structure, a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs which are impossible to accomplish on Earth. It's a microgravity laboratory in which an international crew of six people live and work while traveling at a speed of five miles per second, orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes. The space station has been continuously occupied since November 2000, since that time more than 200 people from 15 countries have visited the ISS. The ISS research facility is approximately 365 feet by 240 feet, or slightly larger than a football field, it weighs around 450 tons, or 450 times the weight of an average car. More than an acre of solar arrays provide power to the station, and also make it the next brightest object in the night sky above us next to the moon. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great advance in space exploration, enabling research and technology developments that will benefit human and robotic explorations of destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including missions to asteroids and Mars. The International Space Station is the perfect blueprint of global cooperation, enabling a multinational partnership in the advancement of shared goals in space exploration.

The International Space Station

Space Shuttle docked with the International Space Station construction in progress.
Space Shuttle docked with the International Space Station construction in progress. | Source
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Completed International Space Station as it passes in low-Earth orbit.
Completed International Space Station as it passes in low-Earth orbit. | Source
Robotic arms on the International Space Station can be controlled by stations on Earth.
Robotic arms on the International Space Station can be controlled by stations on Earth. | Source
Shuttle docked with completed International Space Station.
Shuttle docked with completed International Space Station. | Source
Close up of Shuttle docked with International Space Station.
Close up of Shuttle docked with International Space Station. | Source
Solar Panels on the International Space Station
Solar Panels on the International Space Station | Source
Solar Panels on the International Space Station.
Solar Panels on the International Space Station. | Source
Docking station on International Space Station
Docking station on International Space Station | Source
Working out on the International Space Station.
Working out on the International Space Station. | Source
Christmas Eve spacewalk outside the International Space Station
Christmas Eve spacewalk outside the International Space Station | Source
Module of the International Space Station.
Module of the International Space Station. | Source
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The Earth from a window of the International Space Station.
The Earth from a window of the International Space Station. | Source

The Private Sector Space Race

The motto of Blue Origin, developer of the New Shepard vertical-takeoff-and-landing spacecraft is step by step, fiercely and very secretly. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin has been flying under the radar until its April 2015 launch of its flagship suborbital spacecraft from its West Texas proving grounds in a developmental test flight. Video released by the company shows the spacecraft called New Shepard, blasting off to an altitude of 307,000 feet before its crew capsule separates from a propulsion model. Named after the first U.S. astronaut in space, Alan Shepard, the craft is meant to take off and land vertically, utilizing a reusable first stage booster drastically saving money on spaceflight. As more and more private corporations become involved with the exploration of space its only a matter of time before the world of space dramatically changes. Like early flight only a few people were ever able to ride in an airplane but today on average more than 8 million people fly. The number of people who flew in 2014 was over 3.3 billion people (equivalent to 44% of the world's population).

Blue Origin and Amazon's Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos with his staff around a Blue Origin capsule.
Jeff Bezos with his staff around a Blue Origin capsule. | Source

First Flight of the New Shepard Spacecraft

NASA and a Deep-Space Station on the Moon's Far Side

NASA wants to send its astronauts to places where no men have gone before. The United States space agency has been considering building a manned space station near the dark side of the moon, in a spot that's further from Earth than any other human has ever traveled. The preferred location is 15 percent further from Earth than Apollo astronauts ventured. Among other things, the outpost would serve as a stepping stone for future missions to Mars. Off the dark side of the moon, in a part of space known as the Earth-Moon Libration Point. Think of it as a sort of orbital parking lot, or an area of space where an object, like a space station, can be balanced between the gravitational fields of two giant masses, like the Earth and Moon. While most of the dark side of the moon always faces away from Earth, a part of the dark side does tilt in our direction, and it's here that the space station would be built. Anchoring hardware and a crew at the Earth-Moon Libration Point would offer many benefits such as a gateway to future space travel. It would also build on multinational cooperation honed on the International Space Station (ISS). Under review is the use of Russian-supplied hardware and surplus space shuttle gear at the Libration Point.

Earth-moon Libration Point the Gateway to the Universe

The Libration point could look something like the International Space Station.
The Libration point could look something like the International Space Station. | Source
Artist concept of the Libration Point on the Dark Side of the Moon.
Artist concept of the Libration Point on the Dark Side of the Moon. | Source

Living on the Dark Side of the Moon

It would give next-generation space shuttles a jumping-off point for destinations like asteroids, Martian moons, and eventually Mars. The outpost would also help scientists observe the dark side of the moon a rarely studied surface and draw conclusions about the effects of long-term space habitation on the human body. In essence, the new station would serve as both a waypoint and a technology test bed for space travel. NASA would use its heavy-lift rocket Space Launch System and the Lockheed Martin-built Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to provide the space stations foundational elements, and to shuttle astronauts to the station. No doubt the project will be very expensive, and take years to complete. As NASAs budget has continued to cut, the agency is pushing for partnerships elsewhere including international and academic backers in the private sector.

Orion the Backbone of NASAs Future in Space

The Russian Mir Space Station as it orbits the Earth.
The Russian Mir Space Station as it orbits the Earth. | Source
The Orion Spacecraft on its way to the Moon.
The Orion Spacecraft on its way to the Moon. | Source
The Orion Spacecraft on the Dark Side of the Moon.
The Orion Spacecraft on the Dark Side of the Moon. | Source
Astronauts on a space walk above the Earth.
Astronauts on a space walk above the Earth. | Source

Orion Deep Space Exploration

Mankind's Next Big Step

After the Apollo missions in the 1970s man has yet to again step foot on the moon, its been over four decades, now is the time for man to explore the universe. All the answers about where we came from is out there waiting for us. Our world only has a finite amount of natural resources and our universe processes an infinite amount. It could solve some of our major problems here on Earth and give mankind a better life.


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