Wednesday, May 25, 2011

To Boldly Go...

In recent weeks I have become increasingly interested in the space program, particularly since Endeavor's final takeoff last week. This is interesting for two reasons: first, I used to be obsessed with the solar system and the universe when I was younger. Growing up I had numerous solar system maps on my bedroom wall, those glow in the dark stars on my ceiling, and I was obsessed with books about aliens and UFOs. I even did my sixth grade science fair project about star gazing.

However, since my younger days my mind has developed into fearing the unknown, particularly space. What's out there? Is there other life somewhere in the galaxy? What is the universe: is it really "unlimited" space? And then these topics draw my mind into the death/dying/'what happens after?' scenarios. Let's move on...

I've been reading up a lot about the American Space Program (NASA) recently. It blows my mind to read about some of the innovations and changes in space flight and colonization. The BBC recently ran an article detailing a new spaceplane being developed in the UK. The vehicle looks exactly like something out of Star Wars, and it would be fascinating to see something of that sort rolling out within my lifetime. 

I also read two articles about NASA's goals to extend our reach outside of Earth. For example, NASA plans to have a permanently manned lab set up on the Moon by 2024 with astronauts rotating throughout the facility. However, President Obama cut funding to Moon exploration last year to focus on deep space exploration, and the status of this project is still up in the air. However, by doing so NASA will thereby create their first stepping stone to move astronauts further around our inner solar system. There is also a plan to see astronauts landing on Mars by the year 2030. 

The International Space Station (ISS) is also a stunning feat of man's power. It blows my mind to think that there is a huge structure orbiting our planet which was built in space module by module. I can't even imagine spending months at a time on the ISS and all of the luxuries of Earth one must have to give up. This chart on the use/reuse of resources aboard the ISS is fascinating. I already know that I would never be able to do that. And if you have the right conditions, the space station can even be seen from Earth with the naked eye! This reminds me, that I wish I lived in an apartment with a porch so I could purchase a telescope...

NASA has quite the history of space exploration. From the troubled Apollo 13 mission, to the Columbia and Challenger disasters, it's clear that being an astronaut is a dangerous and risk-taking field to be in. That being said, as a nation America needs to stand by it's space program and put faith in the challenges astronauts and scientists take, and the huge steps they make in space exploration. 

That being said, the movie "Apollo 18" coming out this summer does not look like it will shed positive light on the US Space Program. For one thing, the movie is wildly fictional, focusing on the canceled mission and imagining that the mission had made it to the moon, found alien life, and the footage was covered up. It just seems ridiculous and perpetuating or creating an urban legend.

Part of me almost wishes I had moved into a science field in college. I had taken an intro level astronomy course but found the physics and analytical equations to be too much, so god only knows how long I would have lasted. I would never want to explore space as an astronaut (claustrophobia), but it would be amazing to see some of the innovations and technology behind the doors of NASA.

Watching the shuttle launch, even on the computer, is breathtaking:
Launch of Discovery (March): found here
Launch of Endeavor (May): found here

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