I watched Ad Astra a few weeks ago after reading a lot of hype about Brad Pitt flying through space on the back of a metal panel. Apart from some questionable plot twists (read: space monkeys), the film had some of the most beautiful visuals I’ve seen in a film, as well as instilling an excitement for the idea of true space exploration.
The film portrays a life beyond Earth; civilisations living on the Moon and Mars. Virgin Atlantic flying commercial spaceflights between Earth and the Moon (accompanied by $125 pillow and blanket sets). It actually looks… Believable?
I would love the idea of space exploration to progress enough in the next 50-100 years for at least some of these ideas to come to life, and I actually feel a sense of assurance knowing it lies (partially) in the hands of NewSpace billionaires.
Why? Because space exploration beyond anything we’ve ever known requires the grit and determination of crazy, intelligent people. If you’ve ever seen Elon Musk’s Twitter feed, you know he’s a bit wacky, but he’s also got the mind of someone that truly believes in life beyond the world that we know.
Space exploration: July 1969 and beyond…
The U.S Space Agency made history by landing humans on the Moon in July 1969, and everyone thought this would be the propellant for further exploration of the Moon and beyond in the coming years. In all honesty, it seems as though beating the Soviets to the Moon was the only Space achievement anybody cared about in that time and up until more recent times.
Funding to NASA was cut almost immediately, with coming Apollo spaceflights cancelled which were designed to enhance our understanding of living conditions on the Moon. It’s sad to think that at such a time of great hope and adoration of what we are truly capable of as humans, politics stepped in with a slap to the face.
In spite of funding cuts and a shift in attention, there have since been incredible waves of achievement by many agencies across the world. Below are a few of my favourite highlights:
- International Space Station – built and engineered by a joint venture between the U.S, Europe, Japan, Canada and Russia, it’s probably one of my favourite world achievements of all time. I mean, we’ve had humans living somewhere in low-orbital space for the last 19+ years!
- First All-Female Spacewalk – Christina Koch and Jessica Meir – a pair of true heroes. In the midst of controversy (and down-right frustration) regarding space suits not being designed correctly for women, Christina and Jessica are pinnacles of inspiration. Watching them make history a month ago will be a cherished memory for years to come.
- Mars Exploration Rovers – we had two quirky robots land on opposite sides of Mars in 2004; Opportunity and Spirit. These little guys have trekked for miles across the planet and have conducted some of the most important experiments in Space exploration.
- The Dark Side of the Moon – Not the Pink Floyd album, but China making history at the beginning of 2019 by making the first soft-landing on dark lands completely unexplored by humans.
On the back of these incredible achievements, it’s refreshing to see the efforts continuing onwards (even though it may feel later than it should have been). The world is finally making progress towards something that is just so much bigger than what we are, and the race is officially on to land astronauts on the Moon and Mars.
The new Space Race
Referring back to the NewSpace Billionaires, Elon Musk (SpaceX), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) are doing everything in their might to make that next leap in humankind in the next few years. SpaceX have built re-usable rockets, Blue Origin has demonstrated a re-usable space capsule, and Virgin Galactic has designed spacecrafts similar to private planes.
In the midst of competition amongst these Tech billionaires, the race is also on between international space agencies once again. In particular, China and Russia are fresh on the heels (some might say stepping ahead) of U.S. efforts.
So, what about NASA? On one side, due to no human launch program of their own in recent times, they’ve been charged more than $80 million per seat by Russia for every astronaut going to the International Space Station. That’s a bummer, sure, but on the plus side, they’ve also just achieved quantum supremacy! NASA have partnered with Google by “demonstrating the ability to compute in seconds what would take even the largest and most advanced supercomputers thousands of years”. That’s no small feat, and it’s technological advancements like these that help to fuel humankind’s journey to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
There’s so much more I could include in this piece, but it’s time to wrap up. I sincerely have the highest hopes for the world’s best scientists and engineers to come together to achieve greatness, and I can’t wait to see what is yet to come.