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By Joseph L
“Space: the final frontier.” That phrase is used on the famous show Star Trek, and it is very true. We as humans are curious by nature, and explored far frontiers on continents, then spread out over the seas of Earth to reach new lands. The American colonists explored and expanded into the western frontier of the U.S. It is only fitting that once we had explored Earth’s lands and seas that we would start exploring the vast expanse of space!
Human space exploration took off in the 1950s with the Space Race between the US and Russia, and many technological advancements were made. In 1969, the US became the first country to land humans on Earth’s moon. After this, manned space exploration petered out, with humans only traveling to the Space Station
in Earth’s orbit. Probes with no humans aboard have been sent out to other planets in our solar system, gathering data on them. Many rovers have been sent to Mars, and a lander probe has been sent to Titan, a moon of Saturn.
Living in a house with an astronomer, it is hard to not become interested to some degree in space and space exploration. Maybe I am not interested in some of the things my father studies, but I still enjoy contemplating space and human exploration of it. Having also read many books and watched many shows that include space exploration, I am intrigued by it. What is out there beyond our solar system? Are there other lifeforms? Watching Star Trek, it is easy to see a future where space exploration is possible. But in our current state of affairs in the U.S., is it actually feasible to send manned spacecraft to explore beyond our own Moon?
Do you think we’ll get a manned mission beyond our own moon in the next 20 to 30 years? Beyond our own solar system in the next 50 to 60 years?
I asked Jonathan Lunine, my father, who currently works as the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences, and is the Director of the Center for Radiophysics and Space Research at Cornell University. He became interested in space at a young age, day-dreaming about being beamed aboard Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise.
Here are some stats on space exploration:
- $17 billion given to NASA 2013, compared to $900 billion to defense
- 96% of NASA employees were furloughed by government shutdown
So, why has human space exploration seemingly been put on hold? I asked some experienced astronomers and scientists and see what they think the answer is.
Jonathan Lunine on the exploration of Titan: Recently, he helped with sending a probe to Titan, a moon of Saturn, and on a proposal to send another probe to test the seas of liquid methane that were found by Cassini.
Steven Squyres on the exploration of Mars: Research focuses on the robotic exploration of planetary surfaces, the history of water on Mars, geophysics and tectonics of icy satellites, tectonics of Venus, planetary gamma-ray and x-ray spectroscopy. Research for which he is best known includes study of the history and distribution of water on Mars and of the possible existence and habitability of a liquid water ocean on Europa. His most recent project, the Curiosity rover, landed on Mars in August of 2012 to research habitability on Mars for a possible future manned mission.
Listen to the full feature to hear these experts’ responses:
Why do you think human space exploration has been lacking as of late? We have better tech than they did in the 1960s, so what is hindering us?
I have heard that private organizations are planning manned trips to Mars, and have gotten many volunteers. What is preventing NASA from doing the same?
What things could be done to speed up space exploration?
How many years until humans could possibly colonize another planet?
Steve Squyres responds to:
- How is Opportunity doing? How does it feel to be roving on Mars for 10 years?
- I understand you do undersea exploration. Can you tell me a bit about that?
- Why do you think manned space exploration has been lacking since its debut in the mid-1900s?
- On NASA’s solar system exploration page, you are quoted as saying in answer to the question “What are your dreams for the future of exploration?” with the response, “Sending humans to Mars, the sooner the better.” Do you still believe this? If so, do you have plans in the works to make this dream a reality?
- You are still the chairman of the NASA Advisory Council, correct? Can’t you advise them to delve into more manned exploration of space?
- What are some constraints you have encountered in your quest to send humans to Mars? Is it all money issues, or are there other issues at stake here? If so, are there ways you can think of to clear up the issues?
Jonathan Lunine responds to:
- Do you think humans will send manned space craft to other planets or outside the solar system in the near future?!
- I have heard that private organizations are planning manned missions to Mars. What do you think about this?
- I have heard that you were involved in the Cassini mission, and also proposed another new one recently. Can you tell me about those?
Personally, I would be very interested to see space exploration progress outwards beyond our own Moon, and I do hope that humans at least get to Mars in my lifetime.