On Thursday 18th February, the world held its breath as NASA’s science rover Perseverance made its perilous descent onto the Martian surface. After over seven months of flight, the rover, alongside the small robotic helicopter Ingenuity, successfully landed on Mars and began its mission to study the planet’s habitability. This spectacular achievement sparked a worldwide interest in space exploration and the opportunities for humans, with the topic trending across the internet. Now it begs the obvious question: what comes next?
Humans have been trying to understand space for millennia, and whilst the concept of dark matter and energy still present a great deal of unknowns, we’ve come an exceptionally long way. Against all odds, the Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin made humanity’s space debut in 1961, and the decade became even more exciting when Apollo 11 touched down on the moon in 1969. Although humans have not been to the dusty surface, or anywhere beyond the outskirts of the Earth, since 1972, hope is not yet lost.
Now, billionaire entrepreneurs like Elon Musk bring forth the promise of rockets fit for human travel, and the SpaceX CEO has said he is ‘highly confident’ that the company will have humans on the Red Planet by 2026. Speaking at an award show webcast in 2020, Musk expressed his hopes for the project’s future: ‘if we get lucky, maybe even four years.’ SpaceX faces competition however, with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Virgin boss Richard Branson also vying to make space the next business frontier, in what has been coined the ‘billionaire space race.’
The promise of commercial space continues to grow, with the Russian space agency Roscosmos’ partnership with Space Adventures to create a new tourist destination aboard the International Space Station (ISS). In a statement about the contract, Space Adventures CEO and Chairman, Eric Anderson, stated ‘we look forward to continuing to work with Roscosmos in the pursuit of opening the space frontier for all.’ Russia’s grand scheme to return into the space tourism business also offers a $40 million, five-star orbital experience with a dizzying view of the Earth from the ISS, providing the epitome of a luxury holiday.
Though sending humans to space remains an intriguing prospect, the importance of exploratory rovers is forever increasing. NASA’s Perseverance, alongside its study of Mars, is also equipped to collect rock and soil samples, and there is potential to return these samples to Earth for further analysis – something that has never been done in the history of space exploration. The European Space Agency also has big plans: the JUICE Explorer is set to launch in 2022, on a mission to explore three moons of Jupiter, as well as the Gas Giant itself.
Aditi Hrisheekesh, an avid space enthusiast, voiced her anticipation about upcoming space missions. ‘There’s so much out there that we didn’t think we’d be able to see and experience, but it’s really exciting about how now there’s the possibility of exploring and maybe inhabiting these planets.’ She went on to say how it was ‘mesmerising’ to look at photos from space and learn about the fascinating discoveries made by scientists.
Whilst these views are echoed by people around the world, the future of space travel is not quite so rose-tinted. The costs associated with these expeditions are astronomical (no pun intended!) and oftentimes the funds granted by governments cannot support the aspirations of space agencies. Perhaps this is the reason why the international space stage is becoming slowly dominated by billionaire-owned companies like SpaceX.
Financial problems are not the only ones on the list; many in the space flight community believe we shouldn’t begin the countdown to Mars before we make it to the Moon again. They say it is only logical to ensure we have the technology and competencies for further deep space missions and that a research station on the Moon is a beneficial next step in our exploration of space. NASA’s announcement of plans to send the first woman and next man back to the moon by 2024 may mean that this goal, and all future ones, aren’t so out of reach.
The prospects for space travel certainly are exhilarating and with the eyes of the world on space agencies, the anticipation is tangible. Perhaps in the future, space flights will be the norm, with the possibility of a Martian holiday on the horizon, but only time will tell.
Article by Aashi Shah
This Article firstly Publish on www.thisislocallondon.co.uk