The year 2030 sounds a bit like science fiction. But we are only a little over seven years away from this auspicious date, and we are still waiting for man to return to the moon and a human mission to Mars. We are almost a third of the way through this new 21st century. Therefore, I would say that it is time for us to start fulfilling at least a few of our sci-fi aspirations.
Here are the five goals of space exploration that we must meet by the end of the decade.
– Human return to the Moon with a kind of permanent monthly possession of the South Pole.
It’s 2022 and NASA’s Artemis program has been pushed by a combination of Covid and a change in the US presidential administration. The earliest projections for Artemis crew landing on the lunar surface at this point are not earlier than in 2025.
Artemis should only be the beginning of human presence on the Moon, which should see some kind of permanent device in the form of an advanced base, which may not even be permanently occupied, but which is accessible from a gate in the Moon’s orbit. Whether it turns out to be a “gateway” promoted by both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) over the past decade, or something less ambitious, remains to be seen. But such a gate could serve as a refuge as well as a device for human missions to and from the surface.
—- An honest and realistic timeline for a public-private partnership to send astronauts to Mars.
It is highly questionable that Elon Musk and SpaceX will be able to make a human-launched launch to Mars by 2030. But by the end of the decade, it is still possible to have a solid and funded plan for a future human mission to Mars. The year 2040 is probably more realistic for launching astronauts to Mars, assuming that the transport ship Mars would use nuclear-powered engines capable of reaching the crew on Mars within 4 to 6 months.
I would opt for boots on a ground-based surface mission with some Mars orbital gate that would serve as a refuge for astronauts heading for and from the surface. Such a gate to Mars could be in place by 2035, well in advance of the late 1930s with the launch of four astronauts on Mars.
While many wonder why we should make an effort to send humans to Mars for a surface stay of only 30 days, this is an inevitability that is long overdue. We don’t necessarily colonize Mars. But it’s within the real reach of our current space flight technology, and like climbing Mount Everest, it would test our strength as a species.
In many ways, a comprehensive understanding of Mars is key to a full understanding of our geological and evolutionary history here on Earth.
However, NASA’s manned mission to Mars is now not considered possible before 2037.
—- A trusted interstellar precursor mission to test new propulsion technologies.
Personally, I’m not a fan of interstellar technology for small laser sails. Instead, I say, let’s work together to build a new-generation space-propulsion technology that will enable a human-valued voyage to the distant Oort cloud of the solar system at the end of the century. The Oort cloud is a very broad massive body of remaining cometary debris that is thought to orbit our solar system up to three light-years away.
The astronauts will not reach the Oort cloud in the foreseeable future. But there’s no reason why we can’t launch a precursor interstellar probe by 2030. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has worked on several ideas for an interstellar precursor mission in the 1990s and should return to that effort. Even so, as I noted earlier here, a $ 2 billion spacecraft heading for 200 AU (astronomical units) or Earth-Sun is far enough away to get a true picture of an intact interstellar medium. And it is also likely that ground controllers could track the spacecraft up to a distance of 1000 AU
If our robotic probes, and eventually we humans, are ever to travel to the stars, we must launch a large number of robotic probes, with each new spacecraft being faster than its predecessor. This is the only way to bridge the gap between the inner and outer solar system.
—- Launch of an orbital mission to Pluto
NASA’s New Horizons flyby mission to the dwarf planet Pluto and the Kuiper Belt inspired us all with its excellent display of speed, navigation and timing. Praise to all involved. But New Horizons also opened Pandora’s science box on Pluto. This single mission has forever changed the view of planetary science on Pluto from an unpredictable, defocused blob to a surprisingly geologically active terrestrial icy world that is just begging for exploration.
Therefore, it only makes sense to send a combination of robotic orbiter and small rover to Pluto. The mission would be equipped with a sufficient number of scientific instruments to completely rewrite the textbooks. With a nominal annual orbital mission orbiting Pluto, the rover mission could be sent to sample the surface in situ and pass its data to the orbiter for transmission back to Earth.
Given the estimated cost of such a mission at $ 3 billion and the likely need for technology development, the mission is unlikely to be launched until 2035. But by 2030, it could be fully funded and under construction.
—- Launch of a demonstration return mission to the dwarf planet Ceres.
Although transit missions to Enceladus and Europe are often offered as the easiest way to find signs of existing microbial life in our own solar system, given our current technology, the launch is a combined orbital and sample return mission to the relatively nearby dwarf planet Ceres. feasible by the end of this decade.
A $ 3 billion model return mission could land in the geologically impressive Occator crater on the dwarf planet. The asteroid of the 950 km diameter main belt, located about two AU from Earth, Ceres could host the interior of a mud ball, which could persist to this day. NASA estimates that about 35 km below its icy surface, Ceres can still hide a muddy mixture of liquid and rock. If so, a landing mission to Ceres could theoretically return an intact 100-gram sample for analysis back to Earth.
Although Ceres will eventually have no evidence of existing or past life, planetary scientists could learn a lot by sampling one of the oldest planetary bodies in our inner solar system and paving the way for a more robotic surface exploration of our main asteroid belt.
#imperatives #space #exploration #reached