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Space, the Exciting Frontier: Where can we go in our lifetimes?
Sure, we're finding out about dark energy and black holes and such. But we went to the moon in the 1960s. You can't tell me we can't do something cool in my lifetime too if I have an Iphone that is just as advanced as the electronics gear on the Apollo missions. Space is exciting, it is unknown. For you all who want to know more about future space missions like I do, this article is for you.
Beginning 2011-2016: Commercial Space Flight
That's right, it's here. Book your tickets now. In fact, 430 people have already done it with Virgin Galactic. Space Flight is about to be on the same level as skydiving... as in one thing you must do before you die. However, it is much more expensive. For Virgin Galactic, the winner of the X prize, the cost to go to space is only $200,000 with a $20,000 refundable deposit. Not to bad if I do say so myself. Maybe my money from writing hubs can go to that.
Anyway, the prospects of the future are bright. Space X is a forerunner in the race to commercial space flight. Their rockets go a little higher and a little farther than SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic's vehicle, but they're not exactly focusing on commercial space flight.
In fact, with the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA is actually using the heavy lift (the Dragon) Space X rocket to travel to the ISS (for a mere $133 million) and such. This is about half the cost it takes for NASA to use to Russian Soyuz. If you're interested in this kind of stuff I definitely recommend doing more reading about Space X.
Oh yeah, also Space X says that they may claim Google's Lunar X Prize by "deliver[ing] a lander, small rover and up to 240 pounds (110 kg) of payload to the surface of the Moon" by December 2013. That excites me.
Beginning 2016-2020: Space-based power plants
Yes! Possibly finally a relief to those fossil fuel industries...? If I had money to invest it would be in this one (instead of an oil tycoon, a solar powered space tycoon :-)) The point is that solar energy is free and we can harness it much better in space. The Space X rockets mentioned earlier (Dragon and Falcon) enable payloads like a solar powered facility to possibly be delivered to space. The current cost estimate for a 200-Megawatt generator: "a few billion dollars." I could have guessed that; however, it is feasible and perhaps will completed soon. One of my questions was, what does one do with 200-Megawatts of electrical energy in space? Beam it back to Earth to a high traffic zone and a receiver, of course. Solaren, Inc. is on schedule to complete this mission by 2016.
So get off our flicking planet, coal, gas, and nuclear power plants (I'll give you until 2050). And newsflash world: we can get our energy from the sun.
Beginning 2020's: Space Hotels
A quick overview:
Backed by Hilton International
$6-12 billion dollar price tag (Cruise ships cost about $33-50 million, the ISS cost about 140 billion)
Virgin Galactic and British Airways have expressed interest, with an estimated cost of $60,000 a ticket (woah!)
Space Island envisions 20,000 people to have visited these orbital hotels by 2020 (eh, honestly I'm not sure about that one though)
The point is that you or your children will probably see some rapid development of private space hotels within a lifetime. Space hotels come with many risks in terms of taking off, docking with the hotel, and re-entry. If a method could be found that does this rather safely, I might apply to be a housekeeper to one of these things, who knows. If we could go to the moon in the 60's I'm sure we can have a space hotel up before 2030, especially if someone like Mr. Hilton starts financing it.
Beginning 2025: Manned Asteroid Mission
Remember Kennedy's whole spill about getting to the moon before the Russians? If not, it is to the right there. Well anyway Obama has pledged a mission to an asteroid by 2025. Tight, right?
That's ambitious, Obama. I'm not one to say we can't do it. There are a couple of issues, and correct me if I'm wrong in the comments section. An asteroid is almost always much farther than the moon, and it has a weak gravitational field that can mess with landings but is not favorable for orbit. Landing on an asteroid would knock it off its course a little bit which could also mess with calculating the return trip. It also exposes astronauts to cosmic rays for the long term. The general sense in the NASA community is that it is very, very risky. However, on the positive side, new rockets exist that may shorten the trip to everything (39 days to Mars, wow!). These rockets are so powerful they need magnets to direct their plasma thrust. Pretty cool, huh?
Beginning 2030's: Manned Missions to Mars
Alright NASA, talk is cheap. We've been talking about going to Mars for some time now. I just talked about a rocket that could shorten the trip to 39 days. I feel like my Iphone in 2030 will have an app that can send itself to Mars. Barack, on April 15, 2010, challenged you to send a manned orbiter in the 2030's to Mars. I feel like in 20+ years we can get this accomplished. Oh yeah, and the Russians might beat you to it.
Health and safety shouldn't be a huge issue. We already know many of the effects of space on the human body thanks to the International Space Station. It's not like we can't hit the target, we've sent five rovers there before, with the two Vikings, the Pathfinder, and the MERs. The largest problem right now that I can foresee is funding. It will be interesting if we can make this happen.
Beginning 2100: Project Icarus
Basically one of the most valuable resources in our Universe is Helium-3. Why? It can fuel fusion (not fission) power. Oh yeah, it can be used to help detect bombs and is used in MRI's too. It could power reactors that make our nuclear reactors look like child's play. Why don't we use it now? Helium-3 decided to peace-out from Earth a long long time ago because it is a very light material that can escape the atmosphere. So it is very rare unless you are talking about a few gas mines in North America.
But hey Cydro, is there anywhere else we can find Helium-3?
Why thank you for asking. Yes there is. It can be found on Jupiter, Saturn, and especially useful...Uranus (could be the butt of some future jokes). The idea is that we send a fusion powered rocket ship to Uranus, we mine Helium-3, and then we fly back using that same Helium-3 and supply the world's energy needs using about 14,000 tons of the stuff for a year. Sounds simple enough to me. This is our backup plan if our solar power from space doesn't pan out. Check out this Discovery News article for a good summary on the mission.