The worlds above us have intrigued scientists and theologians since the dawn of humanity. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Who or what lives among the stars? These questions have puzzled humanity ever since we were able to ask them. For thousands of years, cultures and religions have developed their own theories and understandings to fulfill these questions. As the 21st century matures, our scientific and technological capabilities continue to develop at unprecedented rates. Today, our technology and engineering capabilities bring the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and their international cooperation programs to the verge of revolutionary discoveries. With only 55 years of manned spaceflight, humans have barely touched our corner of the universe.
Exploring our universe is key to understanding the fundamental questions of life. Exploring directly correlates to understanding. The more places we can send humans to conduct scientific research, the more answers we have about the universe as a whole. Scientists aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been researching how life, molecules, and every day tasks react and change under the effects of microgravity. These studies have developed new and enhanced technologies helping all aspects of our life today.
Exploration is programmed into all of us. Just like Christopher Columbus landing on the coast of North America, astronauts will one day set foot on a new world. As an ingrained human trait, the desire to visit new places and see new sights drive us to go further than we’ve gone before. In 1969, American astronauts made history by performing the first landing on another heavenly body. The moon landing inspired the world; and today, NASA is preparing for a manned landing on Mars in the 2030s.
Perhaps one day we will colonize a new planet, and use it as a first stepping stone for when we disembark Earth forever. Now if you ask me, that’s a cool enough reason to explore. But why would we leave Earth? Here’s my favorite reason for exploring.
The Day Humans Take Flight – Forever.
Here’s a brief astronomy lesson! Our sun is about 4.5 billion years old. That’s 25 thousand times longer than humans have been on Earth. Since Earth’s birth 40 million years after the sun, the sun has acted as our life-blood, providing us with the heat, energy, and weather patterns. Despite its age, the sun is only about half way through its life expectancy. So, what happens when the sun dies?
It’s not pretty. Well, at least not if you’re still on Earth. Our sun is a rather unremarkable, yellow dwarf in its main sequence. When our star begins to die, it will grow in size immensely. Our sun will grow to such and extent that it will engulf the inner three planets – Mercury, Venus, and our Earth – then shed most of its material and retire as a white dwarf; unsustainable for life even if Earth did still exist.
While this fate is inevitable, it may not be the first catastrophe to end humanity’s stay on Earth. In the billions of years to come, we face asteroid impacts, pandemics, lack of resources, carbon death, nuclear crises, and whatever other apocalypse scenario you can dream up. In short, even if we conquer all of these potential human finales, the sun will bring and end to life on Earth as we know it. For humanity to continue, humans must leave our home planet, and even our solar system. Perhaps thousands or millions of years from now, humans will board a spacecraft version of Noah’s Ark, and leave Mother Earth forever.
Cool, so space exploration will save humanity. But what does it do for ME? Like, right now?
Literally dozens of everyday technologies you use were invented and commercialized because of space research. The memory foam you sleep on, water filters, Type 1 Diabetes insulin pumps, and even the Super Soaker were created either by NASA engineers or other professionals using preliminary NASA research. The NASA Spinoff program, founded in 1976, overviews about 50 new cutting-edge technologies and devices each year that are implemented into everyday life through NASA research. Over the last 4 decades, nearly 2,000 products have been developed due to developments at NASA.
Satellites are fundamental to our new age of technology. Properly placed satellites allow for our use of GPS, television, weather monitoring, and crisis awareness. Along with numerous continuing research opportunities, Astronauts aboard the ISS fly over 90 percent of Earth’s populated areas every 24 hours, monitoring ground water, weather patterns, and overall environmental safety of these areas.
I want to save the world too! But I’m not a rocket scientist. Can I get involved in space exploration?
Of course! The Planetary Society has a number of ways that the public can get involved in space exploration. The NASA website is constantly uploading articles and information on new research, developments, and occurrences in the world of space exploration. NASA and the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) have a list of opportunities for public involvement.
Continuing to promote and allow scientific growth is key to our understanding of the world around us as well as the survival of humanity. Educating and involving young students in space and scientific endeavors is key to continuing our technological advancements. Jump start your child’s education with NASA Kids’ Club. The astronauts who will one day land on Mars are currently under the age of 20. Our openness towards education is their future.
Next Friday: A Brief Astronomical History of Earth.