Humanity needs to find a new home, as pointed out in this article. The question of if we actually need to colonize another planet is behind us. Now, the question we need to ask ourselves is: how? How will we accomplish the colonization of distant planets, and which planet will be chosen to be man’s next sanctuary? These are some of the most important questions of our time, and the answer inside this article will analyze our options to become a space-faring civilization.
An opportunity close to home
A possibility is not that far from our current home; Mars. NASA currently has a plan to get a human on Mars in the next thirty years, although it is complicated. Their mission is split into three parts: the first part includes a series of tests on board of the International Space Station to see how space affects the health of astronauts. The second part includes missions near the moon and a plan to catch an asteroid. The third and last part planned to start in 2030 is to send scientific rovers to the Martian surface and put a human into the orbit of Mars.
While far from the best candidate, the red planet does share some characteristics with our own planet. Mars is similar to earth in size, temperature and distance to the sun. In a recently published article, NASA says that through the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile sec Evolution mission, they will learn a great deal about rocky planets such as Mars, how they behave and how the sun affects their atmospheres. This last information could prove essential if another prime candidate for colonization occurs to be rocky.
NASA are not the only ones with Mars in their sights, however. Others have been more open and ambitious about their goals for the red planet.
The company SpaceX has ambitions to send thousands to colonize Mars, and soon. They are currently working on the most powerful rocket engine in the world to help their journey to the new planet. Called the Raptor Engine, it can lift 550 tons, and thanks to their technique of landing rockets back on the launch pad, the engines can be used over and over again. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and also Tesla Motors, has published his plans for colonization, and they look promising. However, there are still many problems, such as the lack of breathable air. Musk has suggested building giant indoor-cities that would house millions. It still remains to be seen if this -or if living on a planet without air – can be achieved.
There are a lot of questions regarding Elon’s quest, and many have raised concerns about logistics, funding and a whole lot more. If we succeed in colonizing Mars, however, then we need to handle it better than we have handled our current planet throughout the centuries. Otherwise, we will need to find another yet another planet. We may need to find another planet regardless; if Mars turns out to be uninhabitable, or if disaster strikes, we need to search for a new, and better home.
The search so far
Space agencies all over the globe have worked together for a long time in the quest for a habitable planet. Throughout the years, it has been NASA that has been leading this effort with the Kepler mission. Named after the astronomer Johannes Kepler, this space telescope was launched in 2009 to locate possible candidates for a new home. These planets need to be inside the circumstellar habitable zone, a specific area of orbit where planets could possibly have water and therefore support life.
So far, the Kepler mission has confirmed more than 2500 exoplanets, planets outside our own solar system that orbit a star, and around thirty planets that are inside the habitable zone and are about the same size of earth. While the chance that these planets can support life is small, there is still a possibility, and we are developing new ways to locate habitable planets and new ways to accurately determine if a planet can house humanity. Last October, NASA announced that they had made advancements in checking the atmospheric conditions of exoplanets. Basically, they can now more accurately determine if there is water in the atmosphere and the planet can sustain life.
If we do end up finding a promising planet, there is still the problem of how we are supposed to travel so far from earth, but in the future, we may be able to journey to these far-off planets and discover if they can be our next home.
In the coming years, we will see giant leaps in technology, and these advances will prove essential to the search of a new home for humanity. A great example of this is the James Webb Space Telescope. The 6500 kg telescope is scheduled to launch in 2019 and will allow us to view the formation of the first galaxies, help us understand the creation of stars and give us a better view of exoplanets. With this, many questions we have about exoplanets and if there are any we could live on will be answered. What is amazing about the telescope, named after the second administrator of NASA, is that it is being built not only by the Americans, but also the CSA (Canadian Space Agency) and the ESA (European Space Agency). This is a wonderful example of how the world is uniting together behind a common goal: a goal to find a new planet for us in the faraway stars.
The JWST will grant us answers to many questions but will also raise new ones. Such is the nature of science, and we must constantly move forward to find answers. The top minds of our time are currently working on our greatest task ever in history; they are unveiling our future. If they succeed, then humanity will prosper among the stars. If they fail, we will perish.
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