In Defense of Space Travel

By Jave Harron

There have been many notable technologies in the twentieth century. Among the most notable was manned space flight. The most advanced space faring agency in the world is the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, more commonly known as NASA. After the Apollo missions, the prestige of the space agency began to wane. Even in the eighties, with the advent of the space shuttle, it seemed the public was not interested in the space program.

Of course, the general trend of apathy has subsided at times. Some of them were minor, such as John Glenn going back into space and Mir crashing. However, not all of these times were "good press." With the Challenger and the Columbia tragedies, many have questioned the need for a space program, and why the USA spends billions putting people in orbit to perform dangerous tasks.

The space program has a history of bipartisan appeal. That is, both parties supporting it at different points in history. In the sixties, many Democrats supported Kennedy's proposed manned moon mission. In the eighties, many Republicans supported the idea of a space shuttle, as well as the GPS system. President Bush's recent proposal could attract supporters from both wings of the government.

I say not only is a space program a good idea, but it is also a necessity for the survival of humanity. Planets don't last forever. In order to survive, humanity will have to expand to the stars. It's better to spread out across the universe, instead of "keeping all your eggs in one basket." Until recently, NASA was concerned with only low-orbit spacecraft and stations. That changed with a recent proposal from Bush.

First, I shall mention I agree with many ideas presented in Bush's proposal. I agree we should go to Mars. I agree we should set up a moon base. However, I disagree with some minor things, but the ends are similar. First of all, the proposal mentioned phasing out the International Space Station, or ISS. The International Space Station does take up money that can be used for getting to the moon and Mars, but I think it has a few reasons to justify its existence.

First of all, think of the ultimate goal: Mars. Mars is a lot farther to go than the moon. The moon has less gravity to break out of, making it easier to launch things from the moon. That's why a moon base would be a nice 'starting point' for any Mars mission. However, we have to remember we are not back to the moon yet. The ISS might be 'reconfigured' into a nice "refueling station" for any craft moving supplies to the moon.

Also, there's the issue of grounding the space shuttles. While modern shuttles are cumbersome and expensive, they could be reconfigured to carriers for supplies between any moon base and "refueling station." Reconfiguring an existing space craft might be easier and cheaper than building a new one. However, I will see which will cost more in a few years, but I will stick to this opinion for now.

There's some other advantages to a space program. Civilian life has been given several innovations by the space program. Artificial limbs and implants are just the tip of the iceberg. Personal computers and other electronic devices trace their roots back to the space program. However, in order to establish a moon base and get to Mars, there are some technologies I suggest are researched, and some procedures I recommend followed.

Getting Started- Starting such a project is probably one of the more challenging parts. One of the main issues is cost. Perhaps a partial privatization of the space program could help. Another issue is location. Keep in mind many other places in the solar system lack an Earth-like atmosphere. This means that space debris can hit it easier, since they don't burn up in the atmosphere. Building colonies underground can help alleviate the problem.

Robotics and Nanotechnology- Humans are rather costly to maintain in space. For each human, you need food, water, and air for them. Robots, however, require less supplies. Robots can do jobs in space too dangerous for humans, such as attaching new parts to a space station or mining in a place too dangerous for humans, for whatever reasons. Mind you, those reasons currently include asteroid impacts and heat, not aliens. Also, nanotechnology, or microscopic robots, will allow machines to take up less space, thus saving costs and weight on a vessel. Also, with robotics, it could be possible to set up a base from remote control, so a colony is ready once humans get there.

Practical Cryogenics- Straight out of sci-fi, cryogenics would be needed for a long-term romp through the solar system. With some trips measured in years, cryogenics is a must. Instead of packing enough food, water, and air for that long, you could reduce weight with a few cryogenics tubes. Also, people aging in space lowers their physical fitness.

Space Weaponry- Every frontier has conditions that effect the evolution of weapons, and space is no exception. Weapons that fire at zero-g and in the frigid void of space are a must. While it is doubtful any space battles will occur for a while, there are other uses for space weapons, such as blowing up asteroids or large space debris in the way of the spacecraft. Modern lasers use up too much energy, and are too bulky. Guns normally don't have enough concussive force to destroy large objects. Guided missiles seem to be the answer. However, there is a need to take the lack of airfoil into account. Normal missiles are designed for atmospheric flight. In space, missiles designed for zero-g flight and no wind resistance would be more effective.

Colonial Self-Sufficiency and Security- Sending up supplies to space colonies would cost money. Wouldn't it be easier if space colonies could just make things for themselves? That's why mining the local region for needed minerals, as well as hydroponics, can help a colony make its own resources. Space colonization and travel is obviously a definite benefit.