Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Future Frontier!

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The question that I keep noticing a lot of people are asking of late is “why do we spend so much money on space programs and exploration?” They have at times added that “we could use those substantial budgets for better causes such as eradicating national or global poverty for good, subsidizing the unemployed or building more healthcare services for the general public.” I will agree that there is some validity in those statements, but honestly, space exploration and consistent investment in it will have a far more reaching and positive impact towards preserving humanity than what most skeptics might have us believe. Let me explain a bit further.

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Space for as long as I can remember has always been called as “The Final Frontier!”  However, given the crucial role it will play for mankind in the years ahead, I’d like to change that stellar phrase to “Space Is The Future Frontier!” Given the amazing leaps and bounds technology has developed over the past decade parallel to a world facing acute shortages of basic resources in several regions, Space represents a vast and possibly infinite treasure trove of life sustaining elements and habitats that will benefit people far and wide.  For example, the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is said to contain trillions of dollars worth of minerals that could be harvested and used, while also conserving the finite resources on Earth.  This industry alone could open up so many employment opportunities for engineers, technicians and yes labourers to, who after appropriate training could become “cosmo-miners”.  However, as with anything mankind lays its hands on, there may be foreseeable disputes between nations on who holds a majority of the rights for mining and distribution activities back to Earth.  My view is that the United Nations will have to play a crucial role here and would need to begin undertaking preliminary work now by setting up a Space Charter to ensure that space activities are well managed and governments “play fair”. 

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Another key area that Space offers humanity is an endless series of new home planets and a clean slate to write a fresh chapter in human history.  Just like how the early explorers sailed to the Americas to start a new life, Space offers us the same opportunity.  We are all clued in to the fact that both the Moon and Mars offer ideal environments to begin setting up artificial ecosystems that will support human, plant and animal life.  Granted, a number of resources will at first need to be supplied to those colonies for a while, but after a short period, those same colonies would be able to become self sustaining through setting their own agricultural, water treatment and oxygen manufacturing units.  The prime benefit of this initiative would result in allowing an exodus of a sizeable section of the population on Earth to these newly established colonies.  Thus, reducing the burden our little planet is feeling at the moment.  In relation, this would serve as the first step and guiding platform for discovering “Earth like worlds” and learning how to inhabit them.   

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Connected to this endeavour, is another industry that is eyeing the space business very carefully.  It may come as a surprise to some but the hospitality and aviation industry is keen to make this the “new tourist realm.”  Several companies that are keen to tap this potentially lucrative market include Virgin Galactic, Bigelow Aerospace, SpaceX, Google and Armadillo Aerospace. Each has their own view of what “Space Tourism” will be like from space flights (*orbital flights cost between $20 million to $30 million while suborbital flights are $100,000 - $200,000) to space hotels and space visits to the nearby planets of Venus and Mars.  Supporting that fact is a study by Futron Corp., which estimates that by 2021 - 2025 the United States itself could have between 13,000 - 25,000 annual space tourists generating revenue of $676 million-$1.26 billion. Plus, on an average, just one Spaceport itself could have as many as 250 annual launches that draw 1,300 - 2,500 participants, while generating revenue to the tune of $67.6 million - $126 million for vendors.

In spite of these benefits, there are, I am sure, still be some sceptics that will argue that we need action and investment that will benefit everyone here and now and not in some far distant future.  However, if space endeavours are ignored we may well be adversely affecting the quality of our future.  Hence, it is important for both corporations and governments to continue investing in this field. And so, while the current contenders are warming up their rocket engines and setting their sights to the heavens above, while dreaming of the awesome adventures that await them, I ask you this “would you rather be Earth bound and fade into silence or move forward towards the Future Frontier and discover a boundless realm of possibilities?” Next Take please!

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  1. I also firmly believe that efforts must continue (either at the current pace or much more) to make use of what other planets have to offer. This could either be as you said resource mining or even human colonies.

    The Earth's resources are depleting too fast, add to it problems like global warming; it may not be able to sustain life for more than a few decades if things continue at this rate.

  2. Very well said Rohan. The point of this article requires one to be a visionary, but you have done an excellent job in giving ample information and packag it in a way that even someone without a vision to understand space research and its importance will develop a vision for it.

  3. Well Written Rohan! More might to your pen errr in this case the key board! I don't somehow this whole idea of living in space really scares me! Travelling for so many years going to a different planet etc. If given a choice i would never choose to explore something like that. Theres a reason why we are born on this planet and I think even with the depletion bit there is alot of scope. But have learnt better 'Never say never! right?