Sunday, December 10, 2006

Space...the Final Frontier

This morning on the news I heard a fascinating story about NASA's plans to build a colony on the moon in 2020 that will allow astronauts to stay on the moon for longer than a few days. The inspiration for this task was sprouted from the discovery of water on Mars. Not just ice and vapors - water. This discovery increases the possibility of setting up colonies on other celestial bodies, because where there's water, there's a chance to sustain life and a possibility of existing life forms (probably not little green men with three heads, but other small life forms). NASA wants to set up stations on the moon to allow astronauts to continue studying Mars and eventually set up stations and colonies on Mars.

Was Gene Roddenberry ahead of his time? Many people in technology admit that Star Trek was their inspiration, and it shows in the technology that we see today:

  • Small mobile phones

  • Electronic sensors to automatically open and close doors

  • Biometric scans (ex: fingerprints and retina scans

  • Biotechnology

This is a fascinating story to me. I never thought that this could happen in my lifetime, but it will. While fully functional colonies will not happen in my lifetime (or yours), we are still lucky to see the beginnings of this process.

Here is some information that fascinated me as a technology professional/student/teacher:

  • NASA will be going retro with the spacecraft. They are retiring the space shuttles and replacing them with the former Apollo rocket models. In order to make setting up stations and colonies on the moon feasible, NASA needs an Apollo rocket to be able to transport all the equipment and the supplies to the moon. The space shuttles cannot handle the load. Techology buffs always go for the latest ad greatest. NASA's decision is an example that the latest and greatest is not always the best solution.

  • On the other hand, the latest and greatest technology is what helped NASA make the discoveries on Mars, and it will also be used to help build the stations and colonies on the moon (and eventually Mars).

  • If the stations and colonies prove to be successful, is developing techology to perfect space travel the next step? NASA only sent manned spacecraft to the moon for a number of reasons:

    • The moon is close to the Earth.

    • NASA has enough evidence that sending manned spacecraft to Mercury and Venus wasn't feasible (both of those planets are mostly gas)

    • NASA wasn't sure if a manned spacecraft could land on Mars

    • In order to travel to celestial bodies past Mars, it would take YEARS to reach the destination with the technology that NASA currently has.

    Within the near future, perhaps in my lifetime, NASA will probably begin sending manned spacecraft to Mars (based on their further findings). If this works, will NASA begin to start studying ways to be able to travel to celestial bodies past Mars in days or weeks instead of years?

The resurrection of space exploration is an interesting topic to everyone. There are so many items to be addressed with this discovery other than technology: science, history, politics, and ethics.

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