The idea of travelling amongst the stars is often romanticized in science fiction and pop culture. Star Trek, Star Wars, and Firefly are just a few examples where space flights are developed enough in that universe that traveling to another world is as easy as it is for us to travel to another country. Traveling by spacecraft in science fiction is often akin to travelling by airplane in the real world. But even as advanced as our technology is compared to when Star Trek first aired or when Star Wars graced the movie screens, it still is not quite at that level. The furthest mankind has ever touched down in space is the Moon, a relatively meager 238,900 miles away. For reference, Mars- the next place humanity may travel to- is 33.9 million miles away, and that’s only the next planet over from Earth! But in order to truly understand the troubles NASA and other space agencies are having with one of modern day’s biggest engineering problems, we must examine what makes it so hard for people to explore space.
If you paid attention in History class, you may remember the hardships faced by settlers whenever they tried to create colonies on new land. These included finding food, shelter, and fighting diseases. A lack of supplies, little to no knowledge of the terrain, and long journeys all contribute to making colonization a challenge. But the main difference here is that there was still air in those new lands. And there was still water. And soil to plant crops and… see what I’m getting at? The land on practically anywhere we go, at least in this solar system, will be hostile and infertile. There won’t be any air to breathe, so we will have to bring our own oxygen. And depending on where we go, there will be little to no water, that may be unusable. However, humans are creative, and scientists have been working on this for decades. The three main problems for space travel are having enough oxygen, water, and power to get to a given destination. Water molecules can be split up into oxygen and hydrogen, which is “possible using a process known as electrolysis, which involves running a current through a water sample containing some soluble electrolyte” (Dunnill, Charles W. “Method of Making Oxygen from Water in Zero Gravity Raises Hope for Long-Distance Space Travel.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 19 July 2018, theconversation.com/method-of-making-oxygen-from-water-in-zero-gravity-raises-hope-for-long-distance-space-travel-99554.). The oxygen could be used to breathe and the hydrogen could serve as a much needed fuel source. It is also possible to recombine the atoms and create water molecules, allowing the water to be recycled, theoretically. While all of this technology still requires massive work, it is the first steps to solving several key issues with time travel.
Limited supplies will not be the only issue we face however. The very nature of space itself is capable of killing us. The vacuum of space means we cannot breathe without devices that give us oxygen. Not only that, but by going anywhere astronauts will be subjected to multiple gravity fields. For example, astronauts would experience three gravity fields on a Mars mission. As provided by NASA, “On the six-month trek between the planets, you would be weightless. On the surface of Mars, you would live and work in approximately one-third of Earth’s gravity, and when you return home you will have to readapt to the gravity we take for granted” (Mars, Kelli. “The Human Body in Space.” NASA, NASA, 30 Mar. 2016, http://www.nasa.gov/hrp/bodyinspace). The shift between intensities of gravity could be very damaging to the human body, especially to mineral levels in bones. It can also affect balance, hand-eye coordination, and spatial orientation. Not to mention the radiation levels humans could be subjected to are deadly. For example, astronauts on the ISS (International Space Station) experience “over ten times what they would experience on Earth” (Mars, Kelli. “The Human Body in Space.” NASA, NASA, 30 Mar. 2016, http://www.nasa.gov/hrp/bodyinspace.). While these may seem reason enough to stay on Earth, scientist are already finding new solutions to these issues. The ISS’s, NASA’s, and other space agencies’ different experiments, are allowing them to develop ways to counteract any physical issues from the differing gravity fields, mostly involving intense physical workouts. NASA is also developing shielding to protect astronauts from the radiation they would encounter on a mission to Mars and other places. So while it is challenging, it is not impossible for us to some day explore the universe.
So, will we ever get to the point where we will travel the cosmos? Is it possible to colonize other worlds? Humanity has a habit of asking “ Can we go there? Maybe we can go there.” (Staff, Wired. “The 12 Greatest Challenges for Space Exploration.” Wired, Conde Nast, 16 Feb. 2016,www.wired.com/2016/02/space-is-cold-vast-and-deadly-humans-will-explore-it-anyway/.). So what’s to stop us from going to the final frontier? What stops us from making that leap into the heavens? The answer of course, is our own willingness to go there. And by the looks of the technological advancements we are making to do it, I’d say we want to.
Dunnill, Charles W. “Method of Making Oxygen from Water in Zero Gravity Raises Hope for Long-Distance Space Travel.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 19 July 2018, theconversation.com/method-of-making-oxygen-from-water-in-zero-gravity-raises-hope-for-long-distance-space-travel-99554.
Mars, Kelli. “The Human Body in Space.” NASA, NASA, 30 Mar. 2016, http://www.nasa.gov/hrp/bodyinspace.
Staff, Wired. “The 12 Greatest Challenges for Space Exploration.” Wired, Conde Nast, 16 Feb. 2016, http://www.wired.com/2016/02/space-is-cold-vast-and-deadly-humans-will-explore-it-anyway/.