Space Exploration Moves From Sci-Fi Novel To Reality

Astronomer Rick Wallace hosted a virtual presentation on manned space exploration, as a part of ScienceFest, which concluded Sunday. Courtesy/PEEC

Los Alamos Daily Post

Space tourism and colonization seems like the stuff of science fiction, but as retired Los Alamos National Laboratory employee Rick Wallace explained Friday night, it is quickly becoming a reality.

Wallace hosted a virtual presentation titled, The Future of Manned Space Exploration, as a part of ScienceFest, which concluded Sunday.

His presentation touched on space exploration’s beginnings in the U.S. with the Apollo missions to present-day developments such as billionaires Jeff Bezos’ and Elon Musk’s ventures into commercial space travel as well as NASA’s plans to build a permanent base on the moon by 2024 and send humans to Mars in the next 15 years.

It is an exciting time, Wallace said.

“The most exciting part of this move to a commercial space program is it might open space up for more exploration than we have done previously,” he told the Los Alamos Daily Post in an interview Thursday. “It looks like there is tremendous momentum to move beyond the International Space Station … (and) make spaceships that are faster and bigger. That, I think, is exciting.”

One of the exciting things about advancing human exploration in space is the ability acquire data and transmit faster than before, Wallace said.

Now, humans can look far beyond the Earth’s orbit and even search for life outside of Earth, he said. Many businesses see the opportunity in space, too, Wallace said. For instance, he said there are plans to mine materials from meteorites, which is highly profitable. Space has also provided a huge amount of spin off technologies such as cell phone cameras, memory foam and radiation vests.

It is also a chance for those who are not scientists or astronauts to experience space first-hand.

However, Wallace pointed out that “access (to space) for the regular person depends on how you define regular.”

You need some significant cash to board a spaceship. Wallace said just doing a two-hour fight that would take passengers outside the Earth’s atmosphere is approximately $250,000. Want to participate in a 11-day stay on the International Space Station? The going rate is $50 million, he said.

While there are benefits to space exploration, there could be consequences, too. Wallace pointed out that Earth’s orbital space is getting crowded with satellites and will get even more congested. He said Musk alone wants to launch 40,000 satellites to eliminate “dead zones” for internet access on Earth.

With all this material flying around, it could be harmful to astronauts, space stations and other satellites, Wallace said.

“Space is huge,” he said. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around but there is limited space above the Earth and that’s getting crowded.’

As far what effects humans could have on the environment on the moon or Mars, Wallace said it would be minimal. The bases would small and contained, he said, especially compared to the vast expanses of land on both worlds.

Regarding the effects of space travel could have on humans, Wallace said there is isolation to consider as well as the importance of getting along with the other individuals in group. He added once these astronauts make it to Mars or the moon – there is no turning back. They also will need to consider the physical (weightlessness, radiation, etc.) and emotion impacts.

Just how far and how big space exploration will get remains to be seen, Wallace said.

“Part of it is there needs to be a political will to continue human space exploration,” he said. “You have to get a lot of benefits back.”

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