I wanted to share this interesting article about the future of space travel. (The fact that it is so well written surprises me since it comes from an article directory.)
When man set foot on the Moon during the Apollo programme in 1969, this was considered the first step in the exploration of our solar system, allowing mankind to go beyond our home planet and find answers to questions that have occupied the minds of scientists, philosophers and visionaries for many centuries.
What was once science fiction is becoming reality. Many around the globe expected the 21st century to be one of space travel and planetary exploitation. However, the political and economical drivers needed to nurture and drive such advancements have been lacking since the end of the Apollo programme, shifting the focus of space endeavours from interplanetary to Earth bound and allowing for developments in Earth observation, telecommunication and navigation.
In the past decade, several national and international space programmes have been showing increased interest in space exploration. The United States, Europe, Japan, China, Russia and India have been planning and/or executing a number of robotic planetary missions. In addition, the United States has announced its plans to return to the Moon, and Europe has endorsed the Aurora programme with the ultimate goal of a manned mission to Mars by 2033.
Despite this renewed drive behind space exploration, the contrast with respect to the Apollo era is that the space organisations and nations involved are aiming to achieve their goals within limited financial budgets and at carefully calculated risks. This results in a ‘step by step’ approach allowing for the required technologies to be tested and demonstrated during programmes that include several technology demonstrating missions. The European Aurora programme is a good example of this approach, where each of its missions builds on proven technologies and aims to demonstrate new ones. Its first mission, ExoMars, builds on ESA’s experience gained on Mars Express, and focuses on demonstrating advanced rover technology, aided by the experience gained by NASA during the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) missions.
The above example also demonstrates another feature of today’s exploration programmes: International Cooperation. Driven by the need for cost effectiveness and risk reduction, national and international space agencies are seeking cooperation and enabling the exchange of knowledge, expertise and resources. NASA’s Mars lander mission, Phoenix, will be assisted during its descent and entry by ESA’s Mars Express orbiter for data relay, while ESA’s ExoMars mission baseline relies on NASA’s MRO for data relay. Such cooperation also extends to the scientific output of the various missions.
One aerospace consultancy, VEGA, believes that ensuring cost effectiveness, risk reduction and seeking international cooperation, are the key factors in maintaining the momentum of the space exploration programmes and their success. This requires advanced technologies to be implemented, not only on the space segments, but also on the ground segments, allowing for reduction of costs during the design, test and validation, and operational phases of the missions. Risk reduction and cooperation are assisted by standardisation, efficient interfaces and knowledge management, and effective training.
Recently, training solutions have been instrumental for some of ESA’s most challenging missions; with the implementation of a programme of sustained development to ensure they continue to meet the requirements for all forthcoming challenging exploration missions.
In addition to NASA’s vision to return to the moon, ESA’s Aurora programme, the European national lunar mission studies (Germany, UK, Italy, France), and the exploration activities of Japan, China, Russia and India, there are several entrepreneurial activities developing technologies to enable access to space for mankind. Almost four decades since the first landing on the moon, today we seem to be reminded of Tsiolkovsky’s words again: “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.“