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Space – the final frontier. The site of endless human obsessions since we first looked up at the stars and wondered what they were. It has been the root of countless myths and discoveries, from Ancient Greek constellations to modern science’s understanding of how life was formed, and even in popular culture’s fascination with aliens and space travel. In short, what goes on in space is vastly important to the human race, even if we’re not interested in it as individuals.
In 1969 it seemed we had come one (small) step closer to conquering this brave new world, managing to put a man on the moon for the very first time. However, while this commute was an impressive 238,900 miles away from home, this achievement isn’t even a crumb, a dot, an invisible-to-the-naked-eye speck in exploring the vastness of the universe.
Luckily, while at the moment we have yet to harness the warp drive technology of science fiction in order to cover extensive areas of space, we have produced some pretty badass telescopes that can cover that distance for us. One that most people may have heard of is the Hubble Space Telescope, refining our estimate on the age of the universe and helping our understanding of the nature of black holes.
More recently, with the help of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, scientists have uncovered two earth-like planets that possibly have the right conditions to support life. Bringing science significantly closer to finding an ‘earth twin’, Kepler-62e and -62f (imaginative names, I know) are the right distance from their sun to allow water to remain liquid – an essential for life on a planet.
The discovery of these ‘exoplanets’ goes a long way to improving our knowledge about planets and solar systems, and basically how the universe works in general. But the fact that scientists are hunting for, and discovering, planets that resemble earth and match the criteria for supporting life also opens up some possibilities for space colonization.
Whether this goal is actually what scientists are working towards remains to be seen, and perhaps dreaming of inhabiting new planets is a little farfetched at this moment in time. After all, the Kepler planets are an astonishing 1,200 light years away (that’s 7.05419978 × 1015 miles, if your brain can even comprehend that). Considering we haven’t even made it to the edges of our own solar system, let alone beyond, leads me to believe it’s going to be a while before we can set up camp in a galaxy far, far away.
That’s not for lack of trying, however. Unless you pay absolutely no attention to the news at all, then I’m sure you’re aware of NASA’s Curiosity rover that has been exploring the planet since last year. The achievement was a great step forward in space exploration, but already, a Dutch organization called Mars One is planning to go one step further. They hope to build a community of settlers on the planet, and are already taking applications for the role.
Despite recent findings by the rover that any astronauts on a Mars mission would get a large does of damaging radiation, Mars One have already received thousands of applications. Even with the risks involved, such an interest is unsurprising. If successful, such a groundbreaking mission would go down in history. As with the space race to get a man on the moon, everyone wants a piece of the action.
What sends this concept into the realm of the ridiculous isn’t the challenges that such astronauts will face, however. It’s the way in which the candidates for settling on Mars will be chosen. Mars One plans to turn the whole recruitment process into a reality TV show, with contenders being subjected to Big Brother style proceedings and the whole mission being followed by cameras through training, travel and their experiences on the Red Planet.
Whether or not the mission to actually settle on Mars succeeds, such a TV show would undoubtedly prove popular. Recently, astronaut Chris Hadfiled received significant media exposure during his time on the International Space Station, with several of his videos about his experience in space going viral. His rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, singing and playing guitar while he floated round his tin can, has had over 15,000,000 views on YouTube. Clearly, humanity’s fascination with space can be harnessed for entertainment value.
Whether we can have life on Mars, or if we will ever inhabit other galaxies, only time will tell. What is clear, however, is how necessary space exploration is to our advancement. At the rate we are managing to destroy this planet, immigration into space might become a very real necessity at some point in the future. With NASA only receiving about 0.5% of the United States federal budget, compared to the staggering 20% that goes to the military (not to mention the UK’s space program barely registering as a blip on the forefront of space exploration), it seems unlikely that we will be populating the universe any time soon.