18 Biggest Advantages and Disadvantages of Space Exploration

President Donald Trump announced his desire in 2018 to create a sixth branch of the U.S. military that he colloquially called the Space Force. Although Congress has yet to act on this desire to take the armed forces beyond the atmosphere of our planet, in February 2019, Trump signed Space Policy Directive 4 to have these forces organize underneath the umbrella of the U.S. Air Force.

The directive formally allows the Air Force to organize, train, and equip a corps of military space personnel for actions that take place in space. “Today I’m thrilled to sign a new order taking the next step to create the United States Space Force,” Trump said during the signing ceremony. “It’s so important. When you look at defense, when you look at all of the other aspects of where the world will be some day. I mean, this is the beginning. This is a very important process.”

The initial version of the Space Force will be overseen by a civilian undersecretary and a four-star general serving as the Chief of Staff. Although this structure is not as ambitious as having a separate branch of the military, space exploration experts feel like this is a step in the right direction.

The pros and cons of exploring space are complex simply because we have limited knowledge of what lies beyond our solar system. There are still mysteries to discover about our own planet! These are the key points to consider when we begin to look at what life might look like in the vastness of space.

List of the Pros of Space Exploration

1. It is an opportunity which is available to anyone. If you have a telescope, then you have an opportunity to start exploring space. For more than 300 years, we have looked to the stars with this technology as a way to learn more about our planet and ourselves as a species. When the Hubble space telescope was launched in 1990, it gave us our first views without atmospheric interference on what the vastness of our universe was like.

With millions of images taken and tens of thousands of papers written based on the observations made from simple telescope technologies, we have learned more about the structure of our universe, its age, and the composition of our solar system in the last 20 years than our ancestors would have ever dreamed was possible.

2. It gives us an opportunity to foster genuine cooperation. Because we are a world of nation states, the investments that we make in space exploration tend to have a patriotic feeling to them. Some efforts in this scientific area are still nationally-based, but for most projects there is a spirit of cooperation between the countries of the world who have made this realm of science a top priority. We work together as the human race to operate the international space station, fund research projects, and look outward beyond the stars to see what is there. It is one of the few areas in our lives today where we set aside our boundaries to work together toward a common good.

3. It is an effort which requires us to become innovative. The 100-year Starship Program has the ultimate goal of creating a technology that will allow us to explore space. No idea is off-limits with this project. What we have found in our quest to achieve specific goals in this area of science is that there are numerous discoveries which become possible to improve our lives here at home. Everything from athletic shoes to water purification systems came about because of our push to look beyond our planet. By tackling the technological needs to stay safe in space, we can make life better for everyone down on our planet at the same time.

4. It is an opportunity to explore something new. Although there are still regions of our planet that we rarely study because of technology limitations, the vastness of the universe is a much more significant prize. Only the Voyager spacecraft have gone beyond the first boundaries of our solar system. The information they provide us nearly four decades after their launch continues to enlighten our knowledge of the universe. There are so many unanswered questions when we think about space, especially now that scientists can determine which stars have planets orbiting around them.

Is there life somewhere else in the universe? If so, would those beings look like us? There are numerous technological barriers we must cross before we could travel for long distances in the vacuum of space, but we are getting one step closer every day.

5. It creates numerous employment opportunities in a variety of fields. There are more than 18,000 people employed in the United States by NASA, along with countless contractors, freelancers, and specialists not counted in those figures. The private company SpaceX provides about 7,000 full-time high-skill positions that support the economy. Then there are the astronauts, engineers, and flight specialists who manage the actual mechanisms of space flight to consider.

Numerous indirect employment opportunities are possible because of our efforts at space exploration too. We need caterers, designers, nutritionists, personal trainers, astronomers, scientists, and many other positions to support these activities. Even though the budget for NASA is $21 billion for FY 2020, the economic returns can be five times greater because of these activities.

6. It allows us to understand our planet better. When we can observe the full scale of our planet from a high orbital position, then we can see changes that are not always possible from the ground. It gives us a way to track the changes to our environment, study ozone depletion, and measure the impacts of a warming planet. We can provide accurate prediction models for weather patterns, observe troop movements, and install safety equipment that guards against an attack. When we take full advantage of this benefit, it becomes possible to create a place in the universe that is healthier for many years to come.

7. It gives us a new perspective on our place in the universe. It took several centuries for the scientific world (back by religious zealots) to accept the fact that the Earth was not the center of the universe. When we saw that first picture from a distance of what our planet looks like from a distant point in our solar system, it became clear to see that a small, pale blue dot in the middle of the vastness of our universe puts our daily issues into a new perspective. Until we discover otherwise, this is the only home that we have. It is up to each of us to share resources, reduce conflict, and work toward a common good.

8. It allows us to identify potential dangers before they strike. The asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars is only one source for these deadly rocks in our solar system. There may even be threats that travel through the universe to interact with our region of space from time-to-time. It would only take one significant impact to change life on our planet forever, which is why space exploration makes threat identification a top priority. If we can locate and move threatening asteroids or comets before they threaten an impact, we could stop the apocalypse before it ever gets a chance to begin.

9. It would give us access to new minerals, precious metals, and other useful items. Thanks to the asteroids which occasionally make it to the surface of our planet, we know that many of them contain iron and carbon. We also know that there is nickel, cobalt, silicon, magnesium, calcium, and several other elements present. Some might have water or oxygen contained beneath their surface. There may even be gold, platinum, and other precious metals there. We might even discover something that we’ve never encountered before.

Space exploration gives us an opportunity to access new mineral resources, allowing for the privatization of this venture. It would also give us an opportunity to start building in space because the raw materials are easy to haul and transport.

10. It gives us an opportunity to see what lies beyond in the final frontier. Unless circumstances change somehow, there will come a point in time when our species will outgrow our planet. We must begin to look for colonization opportunities in our solar system and beyond to help support the future of our race. As our scientific and technological discoveries begin to open up opportunities to visit distant stars, we can start to discover even more mysteries that will help us to answer the meaningful questions in life.

11. It could change our approach to medicine. Discovering new organic elements in space could help us to discover cures for some of our worst diseases. We really don’t know what is possible in our universe beyond the scope of basic physics. There could be untold treasures just waiting beyond our solar system to discover. Although there is always an element of risk to any exploration venture, there are great rewards often waiting for those who embrace their courage to start pressing forward. At the rate of development that we’ve seen in the 21st century, we could be looking at a very different human race in our children’s lifetimes based on the possibilities of discovery.

List of the Cons of Space Exploration

1. It could cause us harm or provide harm to other species in space. We know from experience what happens when one group of humans comes into contact with another group after generations of isolation. The diseases that transferred back and forth between Europe and the New World devastated some cultures. There were times that smallpox would kill over 90% of the local population by itself. If we encounter life on a different planet (or if they visit us), the threat of disease transmission is real. Their viruses, bacteria, and potentially unknown invaders could do as much damage to us as we could to do them. First contact would be an exciting experience, but it could also be a deadly one even though no one has any ill intent toward the other.

2. It creates high-level pollution events. We must consume fossil fuels when we launch rockets into space, which means we’re creating a significant level of pollution every time we expend fuel for exploration purposes. Even on a light load, it costs about $300,000 to fuel a rocket. Larger models could hold a half-million gallons of fuel that would be used during an entire mission. That means we are creating roughly 4 million pounds of carbon pollution with every action that we take to reach space. Then we must find a way to place these fuels safely into orbit to make our exploration efforts useful, creating even further potential problems for our atmosphere.

3. It gives us more ways to be paranoid about what others are doing. There are only five treaties which currently govern how we operate in space. Our original goal as the human race was to make it so that no one could claim a territory in orbit or our solar system that could give one nation a distinctive advantage. The creation of a Space Force could work to upset the balance that we’ve worked to create for the last 50 years. We’re already using satellites to spy on one another, monitor communications networks, and potentially target cities with weapons.

This paranoia will only increase as we push further into the stars. The only real solution to this disadvantage is to start thinking of ourselves as a planetary nation instead of one that is built on nation-states alone.

4. It will create a large amount of garbage that we must manage. Did you know that NASA tracks over a half-million pieces of space junk that orbits our planet right now? Unless we physically remove these items in some way, this garbage will linger until it falls into our atmosphere to burn up. Every item we leave behind creates a future risk for someone else. If we are going to start exploring space, then we must begin to look at ways to clean up our act before we get going. It’s bad enough that we’ve polluted our oceans with microplastics. Should a spaceship encounter that debris, it could be a deadly experience.

5. it may cause our planet to face unknown perils. A common theme in many science-fiction novels, shows, and movies is the idea that an alien race is hostile towards us. It is widely believed that water may be one of the scarcest commodities in the universe, but here we are with a planet that is more than 70% water. If we start venturing out beyond our solar system, it is entirely possible that we could encounter a species who decides that our resources are ripe for the taking. We assume that an advanced culture who could invent real-time space travel would be peaceful, but there are no guarantees. Exploring space could become an invitation for interstellar war.

6. It will always entail risk. Human beings were not meant to be in the vacuum of space. We must wear extensive protective gear to survive those conditions. Even one small leak or crack in a helmet or suit would be enough to create an adverse health condition. This issue applies to the planetary environments which we know of right now as well. Then there are the health issues to consider when the human body experiences a lack of gravity for an extended time.

NASA studied identical twins Scott and Mark Kelly when Scott took a long trip to space. Scientists monitored their bodies to see how being in a weightless environment could change the physical chemistry of a person. They discovered that genomic instability occurs, including gene expression changes, and spending a year in that environment caused a thickening of the carotid artery, DNA damage, and reduced cognitive abilities.

7. It is expensive to start exploring space. Even though the budget for NASA has not changed that much in recent years, we are spending about $200 billion per decade on our current space exploration efforts. Privatization of the industry has helped to reduce some costs, especially as SpaceX continues to work on a recoverable rocket. When you add in the costs from other countries and their space programs, our planet spends about $60 billion per year on this effort. In comparison, the United Nations suggests that it would only take half of that amount to end global hunger permanently. Should exploring space be our top priority if we’re struggling to take care of ourselves here at home?

When we examine these space exploration pros and cons, there is a certain nobleness to the idea of seeking what lies beyond the next horizon. Our society was built on the desire to explore the planet where we live. Now our culture has the itch to start pushing beyond the next boundary. Whether that means we colonize the moon, establish a community on Mars, or push toward Alpha Centauri, there is something waiting to be discovered. We’re closer than ever before to finding out what that might be.

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Everything you need to know about space travel (almost)

We're a long way from home...

Paul Parsons

When did we first start exploring space?

The first human-made object to go into space was a German V2 missile , launched on a test flight in 1942. Although uncrewed, it reached an altitude of 189km (117 miles).

Former Nazi rocket scientists were later recruited by both America and Russia (often at gunpoint in the latter case), where they were instrumental in developing Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) – rockets capable of carrying nuclear weapons from one side of the planet to the other.

A captured German V-2 rocket, the world’s first guided missile, launched at the US Army testing base at White Sands, in New Mexico © Getty Images

It was these super-missiles that formed the basis for the space programmes of both post-war superpowers. As it happened, Russia was the first to reach Earth orbit, when it launched the uncrewed Sputnik 1 in October 1957, followed a month later by Sputnik 2, carrying the dog Laika – the first live animal in space.

The USA sent its first uncrewed satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit soon after, in January 1958. A slew of robotic spaceflights followed, from both sides of the Atlantic, before Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin piloted Vostok 1 into orbit on 12 April 1961, to become the first human being in space . And from there the space race proper began, culminating in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first people to walk on the Moon as part of NASA's Apollo programme .

Why is space travel important?

Space exploration is the future. It satisfies the human urge to explore and to travel, and in the years and decades to come it could even provide our species with new places to call home – especially relevant now, as Earth becomes increasingly crowded .

Extending our reach into space is also necessary for the advancement of science. Space telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope and probes to the distant worlds of the Solar System are continually updating, and occasionally revolutionising, our understanding of astronomy and physics.

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But there are also some very practical reasons, such as mining asteroids for materials that are extremely rare here on Earth.

One example is the huge reserve of the chemical isotope helium-3 thought to be locked away in the soil on the surface of the Moon . This isotope is a potential fuel for future nuclear fusion reactors – power stations that tap into the same source of energy as the Sun. Unlike other fusion fuels, helium-3 gives off no hard-to-contain and deadly neutron radiation.

However, for this to happen the first challenge to overcome is how to build a base on the Moon. In 2019, China's Chang’e 4 mission marked the beginning of a new space race to conquer the Moon, signalling their intent to build a permanent lunar base , while the NASA Artemis mission plans to build a space station, called Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway , providing a platform to ferry astronauts to the Moon's surface.

Could humans travel into interstellar space and how would we get there?

It’s entirely feasible that human explorers will visit the furthest reaches of our Solar System. The stars, however, are another matter. Interstellar space is so vast that it takes light – the fastest thing we know of in the Universe – years, centuries and millennia to traverse it. Faster-than-light travel may be possible one day, but is unlikely to become a reality in our lifetimes.

It’s not impossible that humans might one day cross this cosmic gulf, though it won’t be easy. The combustion-powered rocket engines of today certainly aren’t up to the job – they just don’t use fuel efficiently enough. Instead, interstellar spacecraft may create a rocket-like propulsion jet using electric and magnetic fields. This so-called ‘ ion drive ’ technology has already been tested aboard uncrewed Solar System probes.

Star Trek's USS Enterprise, the iconic warp-capable ship © Alamy

Another possibility is to push spacecraft off towards the stars using the light from a high-powered laser . A consortium of scientists calling themselves Breakthrough Starshot is already planning to send a flotilla of tiny robotic probes to our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, using just this method.

Though whether human astronauts could survive such punishing acceleration, or the decades-long journey through deep space, remains to be seen.

How do we benefit from space exploration?

Pushing forward the frontiers of science is the stated goal of many space missions . But even the development of space travel technology itself can lead to unintended yet beneficial ‘spin-off’ technologies with some very down-to-earth applications.

Notable spin-offs from the US space programme, NASA, include memory foam mattresses, artificial hearts, and the lubricant spray WD-40. Doubtless, there are many more to come.

Read more about space exploration:

  • The next giant leaps: The UK missions getting us to the Moon
  • Move over, Mars: why we should look further afield for future human colonies
  • Everything you need to know about the Voyager mission
  • 6 out-of-this-world experiments recreating space on Earth

Space exploration also instils a sense of wonder, it reminds us that there are issues beyond our humdrum planet and its petty squabbles, and without doubt it helps to inspire each new generation of young scientists. It’s also an insurance policy. We’re now all too aware that global calamities can and do happen – for instance, climate change and the giant asteroid that smashed into the Earth 65 million years ago, leading to the total extinction of the dinosaurs .

The lesson for the human species is that we keep all our eggs in one basket at our peril. On the other hand, a healthy space programme, and the means to travel to other worlds, gives us an out.

Is space travel dangerous?

In short, yes – very. Reaching orbit means accelerating up to around 28,000kph (17,000mph, or 22 times the speed of sound ). If anything goes wrong at that speed, it’s seldom good news.

Then there’s the growing cloud of space junk to contend with in Earth's orbit – defunct satellites, discarded rocket stages and other detritus – all moving just as fast. A five-gram bolt hitting at orbital speed packs as much energy as a 200kg weight dropped from the top of an 18-storey building.

Sandra Bullock repairs the Hubble Telescope with George Clooney in Gravity © Warner Brothers

And getting to space is just the start of the danger. The principal hazard once there is cancer-producing radiation – the typical dose from one day in space is equivalent to what you’d receive over an entire year back on Earth, thanks to the planet’s atmosphere and protective magnetic field.

Add to that the icy cold airless vacuum , the need to bring all your own food and water, plus the effects of long-duration weightlessness on bone density, the brain and muscular condition – including that of the heart – and it soon becomes clear that venturing into space really isn’t for the faint-hearted.

When will space travel be available to everyone?

It’s already happening – that is, assuming your pockets are deep enough. The first self-funded ‘space tourist’ was US businessman Dennis Tito, who in 2001 spent a week aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for the cool sum of $20m (£15m).

Virgin Galactic has long been promising to take customers on short sub-orbital hops into space – where passengers get to experience rocket propulsion and several minutes of weightlessness, before gliding back to a runway landing on Earth, all for $250k (£190k). In late July 2020, the company unveiled the finished cabin in its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, suggesting that commercial spaceflights may begin shortly.

SpaceX expect that one day their Starship could carry passengers to the Moon © SpaceX/Flickr

Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX , which in May 2020 became the first private company to launch a human crew to Earth orbit aboard the Crew Dragon , plans to offer stays on the ISS for $35k (£27k) per night. SpaceX is now prototyping its huge Starship vehicle , which is designed to take 100 passengers from Earth to as far afield as Mars for around $20k (£15k) per head. Musk stated in January that he hoped to be operating 1,000 Starships by 2050.

10 Short Lessons in Space Travel by Paul Parsons is out now (£9.99, Michael O'Mara)

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20 Inventions We Wouldn't Have Without Space Travel

20 Inventions We Wouldn't Have Without Space Travel

Little Astronomy

10 Benefits of Space Exploration. (Including Medical and Economical)

On April 12, 1961, the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey to outer space. The age of space exploration started that day.

But why are we so interested in spending so much time, money, and resources to visit chunks of rock that are most likely empty? Why purposely go to environments that are dangerous and even deadly to humans?

Well, the answer is simple.

The benefits of space exploration outweigh the dangers of it. Becoming a space-faring civilization is the most important goal we must achieve for humanity to survive long-term .

In this article, we’ll the major 10 benefits of space exploration. These include medical, technological, and economic benefits. They are listed in no particular order of importance.

Economic benefits of space exploration

Economic benefits of space exploration

10. Creation of STEM Jobs

NASA employs more than 18,000 people. SpaceX more than 12,000. And that’s not counting outside contractors with whom those numbers at least double.

A lot of those jobs are positions for engineers, data analysts, mathematicians, physicists, astronomers, doctors, biologists, geologists, etc.

Space exploration is one of the industries that require the largest percentage of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs.

These positions require highly qualified people to fill them but are also some of the highest-paid jobs in the market. The average entry-level STEM job pays approximately 26% higher than non-STEM fields for college graduates.

So, in summary, the growing space industry creates high-paying jobs.

9. Space mining and asteroid capturing

In space, there are many valuable resources in big quantities that are scarce on Earth. For example, the asteroid Pysche 16 is estimated to contain over $700 quintillion dollars worth of gold. Enough to give each person on Earth more than $100 billion dollars. And that’s not even close to being the most valuable object.

Economists have predicted the space mining industry will create the first trillionaire.

But the real benefit for the advancement of humankind might come from a much more unlikely substance. Water.

Learning to capture asteroids full of ice and crashing them safely, could help us solve one of the biggest challenges of inhabiting planets. The lack of liquid water.

8. Space tourism industry

The biggest dream some of us have is being able to take a trip to outer space. It is the ultimate destination. And because unfortunately, not many people can become astronauts, the rest of us will have to wait until the space tourism industry develops a bit more. It is still too expensive to go to space .

In 2021, a trip in one of the first trips offered by Blue Origin, the space company created by Jeff Bezos, was auctioned. The winner paid $28 million for the privilege to be one of the first space tourists.

As reusable rockets improve, the costs of these trips will become significantly lower. Hopefully one day they’ll be within the reach for all of us.

The space tourism industry will indubitably create tens of thousands of jobs. From travel agents to pilots, to manufacturing jobs in the factories that make the rockets.

Medical benefits of space exploration

Medical benefits of space exploration

7. Learning more about the human body

Studying the effects of space travel has helped us better understand the human body. For example, analyzing the effects of zero-gravity on blood circulation led to many discoveries on how arteries age and how to prevent some types of heart failure.

The experiments and measurements of bone strength and bone loss in astronauts have helped doctors better understand osteoporosis and other bone diseases.

The medical benefits of space exploration extend to pretty much every area of the human body. From muscle physiology to mental health.

6. Improving medical assistance in remote areas

One of the biggest challenges of space travel is solving problems when you can’t send any new equipment, experts, or any other help. You have to fix things with whatever is available on the ship.

So what happens when there’s a medical emergency on a spaceship?

This question has led doctors and engineers to develop tools and machines that can perform medical procedures and diagnostics remotely.

That same technology has many applications on Earth too. It allows doctors to assist patients that are located in remote rural areas or villages that are difficult to access.

5. Development of new medical procedures

All this knowledge that has been collected has yielded many developments in medical procedures.

Some examples of medical advancements that have been created thanks to space exploration are:

  • Heart pumps
  • Programmable pacemakers
  • Fiber-optic catheters to perform laser angioplasty
  • Digital imaging breast biopsy used to detect breast cancer
  • Fetus monitoring transmitters
  • Cooling suits made to lower a person’s temperature

The NASA spinoff site keeps track of some of the health and medicine advancements that have been made possible thanks to space exploration.

Other benefits of space exploration

4. development of new technologies.

The space race is one of the eras that has birthed the most technological advancements in the shortest period of time. It is probably only third behind both world wars. Throughout the years, companies have found consumer uses for many of these developments. To this day we still use them in our day-to-day lives without even knowing that some NASA engineers originally developed them for the Apollo program that took humankind to the Moon.

Listing all the technologies that have been derived from space exploration would be impossible, but here are some notable examples.

  • Vacuum sealed food.
  • Shock-absorbing sneaker soles. That’s right, the comfy running soles were originally developed for astronaut spacesuits.
  • Fireproof materials used in firefighter uniforms
  • Quake-proofing technology used in bridges and buildings to resist Earthquakes
  • Heat-repellent blankets. There’s a reason why they are also known as “space blankets”. Fun fact, they can also double as DIY telescope covers.
  • Rechargeable hearing aids
  • Autonomous drone navigation
  • Modern vacuum cleaners
  • The lenses used in “action cameras”
  • Water purification technology

As you can see, it is important for us to keep pushing the limits of space exploration. Who knows what kind of new technologies could be developed that will make our lives easier in the future.

3. Inspire the next generation

Space exploration sparks the curiosity of children who will become the next Elon Musk, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride, or Guion Bluford.

It inspires students to dream and gets them interested in science and technology.

Not only is this good for them as STEM jobs can secure them a comfortably future, but it also helps humanity. It is through invention, research, and knowledge that humanity will be able to overcome the big challenges it will be facing in the future.

2. Protecting Earth

We only have one planet where we can live without the help of spacesuits. It would be nice to keep it in good condition until we can figure out a way to find other habitable planets or terraform others.

To do that, we need to learn more about the dangers of space. We know about extinction events like asteroids, but that’s not the only potential threat to our survival. Solar flares, radiation, magnetic pole changes, and greenhouse effects are just some of the challenges Earth might face at some point.

Exploring space is the only way we will learn more about them so we can develop strategies and technology that could help save us from such events.

1. Increase humanity’s odds of survival

There’s one thing we are certain of about when it comes to space. If we – humanity – don’t become a space-faring civilization. We will become extinct sooner or later.

Earth will eventually become uninhabitable and will probably be devoured by the Sun as it expands during the later years of its life cycle. And that’s hoping nothing else happens before, like an asteroid impact, an ice age, atmospheric loss, climate change, or any other potential threats that could wipe us out, to put it bluntly.

Space exploration is not a luxury for the richest nations. It should be a worldwide priority and every country needs to come together in this effort. It is simply the only way we can hope to survive as a species.

We don’t know if we have millions of years or hundreds of years before any of these events happen. So it’s better to get started today.

  • Space exploration can be the doorway to many growth industries such as asteroid mining or space tourism.
  • Many medical advancements have been made possible thanks to the aerospace industry.
  • Space exploration is critical and the only path to the survival of the human race.

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Elena is a Canadian journalist and researcher. She has been looking at the sky for years and hopes to introduce more people to the wonderful hobby that is astronomy.

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Future of space travel: What will it be like?

Future of space travel: What will it be like?

More than 60 years have passed since the first human space flight, but the future of space travel is still being written since only about 600 people have been in orbit so far. For most people willing to experience space travel, this wish remains an unattainable dream. But let’s remember that cars, planes, and trains, available to everyone today, seemed a fantasy once. So will space tourism ever be a reality? It already is. More than that, it has been around for 20 years. Orbital Today will shortly remind you of the story and try to look into the future of space travel.

How it all started

A 37-year-old American English and biology teacher Sharon McAuliffe could become the first space tourist, on winning the “Teacher in Space” competition in 1984. By that time, US astronauts had made 55 successful space flights, and their safe return to Earth had become commonplace. to increase public’s interest in the industry and demonstrate space flight reliability, NASA decided to send the first civilian into space. But it all ended in tragedy. On 28th January 1986, 73 seconds after launch, the Challenger’s fuel tank exploded, killing all seven crew members, including McAuliffe. The practice of sending amateurs into space has been abandoned for many years, and the space tourism future was put on hold.

Astronaut Dannis Tito

The second attempt took place in April 2001. American businessman Dan Tito paid Space Adventures a whopping $20 million for a seat on a Russian Soyuz rocket to go to the ISS. The journey lasted ten days, eight of which Tito spent at the station in zero gravity at an altitude of 400km from the Earth in the company of professional astronauts. From 2002 to 2009, another 7 millionaires and billionaires followed his example, but after that, no one wanted to part with a significant sum for years.

The tipping point occurred in the summer of 2021 when private aerospace companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin sent their first tourists into space, and while these flights were suborbital, they still determined the future of space tourism trends.

Unlike the $20 million eight-day trip to the ISS, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson’s companies offer to spend only three minutes in zero gravity, but the fare is also way lower – $200,000. At the same time, Virgin VSS Unity flight takes 2.5 hours, and Blue Origin New Shepard’s – 11 minutes. This time difference is explained by different launch technologies. Virgin uses an air-launch system (similar to an aeroplane), while Blue Origin uses a classic vertical rocket launch. One thing these two have in common is that both offer to enjoy the view of Earth and starts from space, through panoramic windows from a height of more than 60km.

Virgin has made only one tourist launch so far, while Blue Origin carried out three. The pricing policy has fully justified itself. Seats in the suborbital shuttles of both companies are sold out several years in advance.

As the era of suborbital flights officially began, the interest in orbital flights rekindled. Unwilling to lag behind its main competitors, in September 2021, Space X hastened to launch the first Inspiration 4 orbital mission. The mission implied that four tourists stay on the Crew Dragon ship in orbit for three days. Following in Elon Musk’s footsteps, the Russian Soyuz MS 20 delivered Japanese billionaire Yusaka Maezawa and his assistant to the ISS. This marked an important milestone for space tourism in the future.

commercial space travel in 2021: Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, SpaceX

What is the future of space tourism?

A study by Northern Sky Research (NSR) analysts suggests that over the next 10 years, about 60,000 passengers will go into space, and the total income from space tourism will be about 20 billion US dollars. What will the future of space travel look like?

Suborbital transportation

Private companies will continue to improve suborbital flight technologies, reducing their cost and improving the quality. However, despite this, interest in suborbital tourism is unlikely to last long due to limited supply. The Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic spacecraft can carry a maximum of six people (including two Virgin pilots) and offer only three minutes in zero gravity. Besides, the ships do not cross the Karman line (100km), beyond which real space begins. However, there is hope.

Experts believe that future space travel technology will be able to replace long air flights. In 2020, SpaceX announced its Starship rocket currently in development will be able to take up to 100 passengers on board and deliver them from one continent to another in less than an hour. More specifically, a 15-hour flight to Shanghai from New York on Starship will take only 40 minutes. If Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic follow the same path, while providing adequate service costs, the demand for suborbital flights will grow steadily.

Orbital vacation

Orbital vacation

As more companies consider space tourism, orbital vacations will become one of the future space tourism trends. Orbital infrastructure for recreation, including hotels in orbit and on the moon, could become profitable. Interest in the ISS in this regard is already reemerging. In addition, Orion Span and Blue Origin are developing luxury space hotel concepts called Aurora Station and Orbital Reef . Of course, vacations in space are still far away, but many tourists can already visit space themed hotels on Earth. The best of them are located in China, the USA, Canada, and Switzerland.

Will space tourism ever be affordable?

No doubt, only multi millionaires can afford such trips today. Paying 200 thousand dollars for 3 minutes in weightlessness or 20 million for 8 days in space is not something everyone can easily afford. A century ago, ordinary people could hardly pay for a ticket across the Atlantic, and flying on planes was even more expensive. Today, such trips no longer surprise anyone. Once space tourism becomes mainstream, it will also have a positive impact on many socio-economic processes on Earth: job creation, development of new energy infrastructure based on solar energy, etc. This will increase the scale of opportunity and innovation, boost competition, and ultimately make space travel available for ordinary citizens.

Is space tourism a good idea after all?

Blue Origin shuttle for space tourists

Every industry has positive and negative aspects, and space travel is no exception. Despite the prospects and benefits, this industry calls for careful risk assessment. Let’s take a look at the main facts about future space travel.

1. High expenses

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights require huge investments in infrastructure and technology that are not paying off at this stage. How much does it cost for space tourism? It is difficult to say, but the costs are in the tens of billions. In fact, these are very expensive toys of billionaires. Of course, they can afford such a luxury at the expense of other, highly profitable businesses, but imagine if this money was spent on more pressing issues, i.e., fighting poverty, hunger, medicine, etc.

2. Passenger health

While astronauts take years to prepare for flights, private individuals will fly with minimal instruction. However, heavy workloads and zero-gravity conditions greatly affect health. According to a recent study involving British astronaut Tim Peake , space travel causes more than a third of astronauts to experience temporary anemia due to the destruction of large numbers of red blood cells. While astronauts remain in a state of weightlessness, this does not cause any problems, but the symptoms appear on Earth, under the influence of gravity. This threatens not only the development of space tourism but also the idea of ​​colonising planets since it creates an increased risk for passengers experiencing conditions exacerbated by anemia. Here, we are, first of all, talking about cardiovascular pathologies, which, according to WHO, top the list of common diseases. In other words, you need to be not only rich but absolutely healthy to fly into space. The combination of these factors significantly reduces the number of potential space tourism customers.

3. Environmental impact

A rocket burns hundreds of tons of fuel to overcome the Earth’s gravity and leave the atmosphere. Of course, humanity is inventing ever-more environmentally friendly fuels, but emissions in the upper atmosphere still destroy the ozone layer and provoke global warming. And although the level of emissions from rockets is less than 1% compared with cars, the development of space tourism will inevitably lead to a significant increase in the number of rocket launches, which means an increase in environmental impact risk.

In addition, emissions are not the only problem with a rocket launch . While technology does not yet allow a full transition to a reusable rocket, there remains a high risk of an uncontrolled fall of the first stages to Earth, spills and fuel leaks during transportation, which inevitably destroys the environment.

And yet, despite all cons, the future of space exploration looks quite promising. Rapid technology development can no longer be stopped. In another 5-10 years, getting from London to Sydney by a rocket in half an hour or spending a vacation in orbit could become as commonplace as ordering a taxi or a hotel room today.

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Why We Should Be Spending More on Space Travel

3 uses of space travel

L et’s stipulate one thing: there’s absolutely no reason for us to go to space. It does nothing to feed us, to clothe us, to protect us, to heal us. It’s dangerous and hideously expensive too, a budget-busting luxury that policy makers and administrators have spent decades trying to defend—always unsuccessfully because the fact is, there’s no practical defense for it. So stand down the rockets, take down the space centers, pocket the money and let’s move on. Still want the adventure of going to space? That’s what they make movies for.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s stipulate the opposite: Space is precisely where the human species ought to be going. We accept that we’re a warring species. We accept that we’re a loving species. We accept that we’re an artistic and inventive and idiosyncratic species. Then we surely must accept that we’re a questing species. Questing species don’t much care for being stuck on one side of an ocean and so they climb aboard boats—indeed they invent boats—to cross it. They don’t much care for having their path blocked by a mountain and so they climb it for no reason other than finding out what’s on the other side. Accept that, and you can’t not accept that we have to embrace space.

April 12 marks the 60th anniversary of the day Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space , taking off in his Vostok 1 spacecraft, spending 88 minutes making a single orbit of the Earth, and returning home to a species that seemed forever been changed by his efforts. The date will mark, too, the 60th anniversary of the by-now familiar argument that journeys like Gagarin’s and all of the ones that followed achieve nothing that can be touched and pointed to as a practical dividend of the effort made and the resources expended.

I found myself turning the old debate this way and that over the last week, when I was reading a column in the Guardian with the provocative headline, “Revive the U.S. space program? How about not,” by essayist Nicholas Russell. It opens with a mention of Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 spoken word poem, “Whitey on the Moon,” which compellingly lamented the hard social truth that the U.S. was spending $24 billion in 1960s money on the Apollo program at the same time 10% of Americans were living in poverty, with Blacks suffering at three times the rate of whites.

“Was all that money I made last year (for Whitey on the moon?)” Scott-Heron wrote. “How come there ain’t no money here? (Hm! Whitey’s on the moon.)”

Russell goes on to cite the estimated cost of the new Artemis lunar program , which some analysts have placed at $30 billion; the role—a troubling one as he sees it—of the military in so many space projects, and the ongoing scourge of racism and inequality on Earth that persists while we still keep looking spaceward. Then he mentions, by way of caution, a University of Arizona proposal to send seed, spore, sperm and egg samples of 6.7 million terrestrial species to the moon as a sort of space ark in case life on Earth should come to an end. “When the vastness of space is cited as a means of escape from disaster, it’s exceedingly difficult not to believe nihilism acts as the prime motivator,” Russell argues. “Rather than sparking inspiration, it speaks of blatant fatalism about what is worth saving, a preference for the lofty and unpopulated … with delusions of innovation and heroism.”

Russell is right about some things—especially about the continuing blight of racism. But expenditures on space and expenditures on social programs have never been a zero-sum proposition, any more than any dollar the U.S. government spends on anything at all—the military, farm subsidies, tax cuts for corporations—is by definition a dollar not spent on something else. And the Artemis price tag is indeed high—but only if you look at it as a standalone figure. In the context of the federal budget? NASA funding currently accounts for just 0.4% of the total the government spends each year—down from 4% in the golden era of Apollo. The military’s role in the space program is inevitable, even if Russell sees it as regrettable. Rockets are rockets, after all, and physics is physics, and if the first machines that blasted humans off the Earth were originally designed as ballistic missiles, well, that was what the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had on the shelf. What’s more, every Soviet R-7 rocket or American Atlas that was used to send an astronaut or cosmonaut to orbit was one fewer that could be used in a theater of war.

And as for that space ark? Well yes, it does suggest a certain fatalism. But the fact is, we are eminently capable of screwing the global pooch, to paraphrase the old Mercury astronauts. Unless you’re confident that no autocrat or hermit king with nuclear weapons and a button in reach won’t do something impulsive, storing the Earth’s genetic essence for safekeeping does not seem like a completely insane idea.

That doesn’t mean space exploration is inherently nihilistic, however. Look at the old footage of the global reaction to the Apollo 11 moon landing . Watch the worldwide relief when the Apollo 13 crew —three people the vast majority of the planet had never met—made it home safely. Consider the reaction today when a rover lands on Mars or a spacecraft whizzes past Pluto or a pair of women aboard the space station perform the first all-female spacewalk.

Yes, we can live without traveling to space. Indeed, we did perfectly well over all of the millennia that preceded April 12, 1961. We can meet most of our needs when we stay on Earth—we can raise our families and earn our salaries and feed our bellies. But we feed something less literal, more lyrical when we extend ourselves as far as we can. Once that meant crossing an ocean. Now it means more. Space is out there—and we should be too.

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SPACE.com Columnist Leonard David

Nuclear fusion breakthrough: What does it mean for space exploration?

Some scientists say nuclear fusion propulsion is inevitable. But how far away is it, given recent breakthroughs?

NASA-funded fusion rocket design by University of Washington researchers.

The announcement this week of fusion ignition is a major scientific advancement, one that is decades in the making. More energy was produced than the laser energy used to spark the first controlled fusion triumph. 

The result: replicating the fusion that powers the sun .

On Dec. 5, a team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) achieved the milestone . As noted by Kim Budil, director of the laboratory: "Crossing this threshold is the vision that has driven 60 years of dedicated pursuit — a continual process of learning, building, expanding knowledge and capability, and then finding ways to overcome the new challenges that emerged," Budil said.

The nuclear fusion feat has broad implications, fueling hopes of clean, limitless energy. As for space exploration, one upshot from the landmark research is attaining the long-held dream of future rockets that are driven by fusion propulsion. 

But is that prospect still a pipe dream or is it now deemed reachable? If so, how much of a future are we looking at?

Related: Major breakthrough in pursuit of nuclear fusion unveiled by US scientists

Data points

The fusion breakthrough is welcomed and exciting news for physicist Fatima Ebrahimi at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey. 

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Ebrahimi said the NIF success is extraordinary.

"Any data points obtained showing fusion energy science achievement is fantastic! Fusion energy gain of greater than one is quite an achievement," Ebrahimi said. However, engineering innovations are still requisite for NIF to be commercially viable as a fusion reactor, she added.

Ebrahimi is studying how best to propel humans at greater speeds out to Mars and beyond. The work involves a new concept for a rocket thruster, one that exploits the mechanism behind solar flares . 

The idea is to accelerate particles using "magnetic reconnection," a process found throughout the universe , including the surface of the sun. It's when magnetic field lines converge, suddenly separate, and then join together again, producing loads of energy. By using more electromagnets and more magnetic fields, Ebrahimi envisions the ability to create, in effect, a knob-turning way to fine-tune velocity.

As for the NIF victory impacting space exploration, Ebrahimi said for space applications, compact fusion concepts are still needed. "Heavy components for space applications are not favorable," she said.

Physicist Fatima Ebrahimi in front of an artistic rendering of a fusion rocket.

Necessary precursor

Similar in thought is Paul Gilster, writer/editor of the informative Centauri Dreams website. 

"Naturally I celebrate the NIF's accomplishment of producing more energy than was initially put into the fusion experiment. It's a necessary precursor toward getting fusion into the game as a source of power," Gilster told Space.com. Building upon the notable breakthrough is going to take time, he said.

"Where we go as this evolves, and this seems to be several decades away, is toward actual fusion power plants here on Earth . But as to space exploration, we then have to consider how to reduce working fusion into something that can fit the size and weight constraints of a spacecraft," said Gilster.

There's no doubt in Gilster's mind that fusion can be managed for space exploration purposes, but he suspects that's still more than a few decades in the future. 

"This work is heartening, then, but it should not diminish our research into alternatives like beamed energy as we consider missions beyond the solar system ," said Gilster.

The target chamber of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility.

Exhaust speeds

Richard Dinan is the founder of Pulsar Fusion in the United Kingdom. He's also the author of the book "The Fusion Age: Modern Nuclear Fusion Reactors." 

"Fusion propulsion is a much simpler technology to apply than fusion for energy. If fusion is achievable, which at last the people are starting see it is, then both fusion energy and propulsion are inevitable," Dinan said. "One gives us the ability to power our planet indefinitely, the other the ability to leave our solar system. It's a big deal, really."

Exhaust speeds generated from a fusion plasma, Dinan said, are calculated to be roughly one-thousand times that of a Hall Effect Thruster, electric propulsion hardware that makes use of electric and magnetic fields to create and eject a plasma.

"The financial implications that go with that make fusion propulsion, in our opinion, the single most important emerging technology in the space economy," Dinan said.

Pulsar Fusion has been busy working on a direct fusion drive initiative, a steady state fusion propulsion concept that's based on a compact fusion reactor.

According to the group's website, Pulsar Fusion has proceeded to a Phase 3 task, manufacturing an initial test unit. Static tests are slated to occur next year, followed by an in-orbit demonstration of the technology in 2027.

Pulsar Fusion's Direct Fusion Drive, a compact nuclear fusion engine that could provide both thrust and electrical power for spaceships.

Aspirational glow

"The net energy gain reported in the press is certainly a significant milestone," said Ralph McNutt, a physicist and chief scientist for space science at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. "As more comes out, it will be interesting to see what the turning point was that pushed this achievement past the previous unsuccessful attempts," he said.

McNutt said that getting to a commercial electric power station from this recent milestone is likely to be a tough assignment. "But the tortoise did eventually beat the hare. Tenacity is always the virtue when one is handling tough technical problems."

With respect to space exploration, it certainly does not hurt in providing an example that great things can still be accomplished, McNutt said. 

"All of that said, it should be still a sobering thought that despite all of the work on NERVA/Rover there is still no working nuclear thermal rocket engine, and the promise of nuclear electric propulsion for space travel only had a brief glimmer with SNAP-10A in April of 1965," recalled McNutt. 

The actual use of ICF in a functional spacecraft has been a long-held dream, McNutt said, but that is very unlikely to change for a long time to come.

The cover of a 1989 NASA Lewis Research Center study on inertial confinement fusion propulsion.

"Space travel has always been tough. That NASA has 'blazed the trail' that many commercial entities are now following does not mean space has gotten easier, but the new ICF results have added to the aspirational glow on the horizon of the future," McNutt added. 

"That said, no one should be fooled into thinking that space will somehow not be tough someday. It's called 'rocket science,' with all that implies in popular culture for a reason," he concluded. 

Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook .  

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected].

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as Space.com's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He has received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.

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  • bwana4swahili And producing 3.15MJ of output for 300+MJ is somehow a major breakthrough!? We're still a long, long, long way from anything useful!! Reply
  • Vernon Brechin In order to embrace the ground-based and spaced-based fusion concepts covered in this article one likely assumes that we have 20-30 years to turn this 'Titanic' around. Such dreamers typically have become masterful at excluding the following warnings from their consciousness. IPCC report: ‘now or never’ if world is to stave off climate disaster https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/04/ipcc-report-now-or-never-if-world-stave-off-climate-disaster UN chief: World has less than 2 years to avoid 'runaway climate change' https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/406291-un-chief-the-world-has-less-than-2-years-to-avoid-runaway-climate * This statement was made 4-years ago. Reply
  • bwana4swahili Always gloom and doom, gloom and doom! Homo sapiens will adapt or die just as billions of species before them. Reply
bwana4swahili said: Always gloom and doom, gloom and doom! Homo sapiens will adapt or die just as billions of species before them.
  • Unclear Engineer There is nothing about the climate that is going to kill off all humans by 2025, 2050 or even 2100, even if we continue to emit more CO2 than we pledged. What will happen is that a lot of our coastal infrastructures will be inundated and need to be moved or replaced, and a lot of people will find their climate has changed - some for the worse and some for the better. In the long run, if we continue as we are doing, sea level will top out at about 300' higher than today. The predictions that Earth will become unfit for life are not likely outcomes, because there will be social feedbacks that force changes in our ways. The bigger issue is whether those changes result in wars over migration that will existentially threaten our species in the nearer term. Reply
Unclear Engineer said: There is nothing about the climate that is going to kill off all humans by 2025, 2050 or even 2100, even if we continue to emit more CO2 than we pledged. What will happen is that a lot of our coastal infrastructures will be inundated and need to be moved or replaced, and a lot of people will find their climate has changed - some for the worse and some for the better. In the long run, if we continue as we are doing, sea level will top out at about 300' higher than today. The predictions that Earth will become unfit for life are not likely outcomes, because there will be social feedbacks that force changes in our ways. The bigger issue is whether those changes result in wars over migration that will existentially threaten our species in the nearer term.
  • Unclear Engineer Vernon, you are drastically underestimating my credentials and experience, as well as my interest in the natural ecosystems beyond just human comfort. So, please drop the attitude that I am naïve, undereducated or otherwise unaware about the things you are advocating. I have been actually involved in the issues we are discussing for decades, so this is much more than an academic exercise for me. And, I am well aware of the IPCC and other reports on global warming - I have been following the issues since the 1970s, and am updating the projected sea levels (and local land subsidence) for impacts on my home every time there is an update, as well as following the research on the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to see how new knowledge is likely to affect those estimates. I am also working on a solar installation for my property. I am also involved in habitat restorations and preservations in my local area. I don't just post about things that matter, I get out and do things that I hope will matter. So, you are going to have to adopt a more balanced style for discussing the issues if you want to have any effect on my understanding of them. Trying to come across as possessing superior education, experience or knowledge isn't getting you any traction. Debate the issues with facts, please. Reply
  • Helio Vernon, ask yourself why RCP8.5 was replaced with RCP4.5? Climate modeling still doesn't have a strong grip on all the variables and how they affect climate, though it is critical that they keep improving this work. I like the use of the phrase, "climate sensitivity", to better address the real effort in climate modeling of all those variables, like the impact from CO2. Language is important and it has been abused. Consider how stupid the phrase "climate denier" sounds, which is, no doubt, intended as an ad hominem. I can't imagine anyone claiming there is no such thing as a climate? I wonder how many realize that more will die from cold than from heat in the next 12 months.? The CDC shows significantly more from cold in the US, which is based on death certificates. Other sources, however, say it is about even. Yet, world-wide, the mortality from cold is likely more than 5 to 1. here] Heat in the winter requires, currently, fossil fuels. Air conditioners made the south livable, also requiring fossil fuels. We are playing with lives of the vulnerable if we move off fossil fuels too quickly, and rhetoric suggests that's the direction being taken. Wind and solar can help but we must understand their limitations. More science, less hullabaloo. Reply
Admin said: Nuclear fusion has broad implications, fueling hopes of clean, limitless energy and the long-held dream of future rockets that are driven by nuclear propulsion. Nuclear fusion breakthrough: What does it mean for space exploration? : Read more
  • Unclear Engineer Yes, that is interesting. Pulsar Fusion has made other types of engines, but not fusion based, yet. See https://pulsarfusion.com/ . Considering that their website says "NUCLEAR FUSION SET TO BE THE WORLD’S DOMINANT POWER SOURCE BY 2100", I put them in the "advocate" category rather than the "objective forecaster" category. So, when I read "Pulsar has now proceeded to phase 3, the manufacture of the initial test unit. Static tests are to begin in 2023 followed by an In Orbit Demonstration (IOD) of the technology in 2027," I am hopeful but not overly optimistic. Research groups have been building fusion devices here on Earth for decades, and none are yet "continuous" or even close to it. True, an open system is much easier to run continuously than the closed systems that the other current projects hope to create for electric power production here on Earth's surface. "Containment" becomes "direction" in open systems designed to produce thrust. But, considering how slow the progress has been on other fusion projects, I will be amazed if Pulsar Fusion gets a successful orbital demonstration as early as 5 years from now. Reply
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3 uses of space travel

History of Space Travel

Learn about the history of humans traveling into space.

The first earthling to orbit our planet was just two years old, plucked from the streets of Moscow barely more than a week before her historic launch. Her name was Laika. She was a terrier mutt and by all accounts a good dog. Her 1957 flight paved the way for space exploration back when scientists didn’t know if spaceflight was lethal for living things.

Humans are explorers. Since before the dawn of civilization, we’ve been lured over the horizon to find food or more space, to make a profit, or just to see what’s beyond those trees or mountains or oceans. Our ability to explore reached new heights—literally—in the last hundred years. Airplanes shortened distances, simplified travel, and showed us Earth from a new perspective. By the middle of the last century, we aimed even higher.

Our first steps into space began as a race between the United States and the former Soviet Union, rivals in a global struggle for power. Laika was followed into orbit four years later by the first human, Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin. With Earth orbit achieved, we turned our sights on the moon. The United States landed two astronauts on its stark surface in 1969, and five more manned missions followed. The U.S.’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched probes to study the solar system. Manned space stations began glittering in the sky. NASA developed reusable spacecraft—space shuttle orbiters—to ferry astronauts and satellites to orbit. Space-travel technology had advanced light-years in just three decades. Gagarin had to parachute from his spaceship after reentry from orbit. The space shuttle leaves orbit at 16,465 miles an hour (26,498 kilometers an hour) and glides to a stop on a runway without using an engine.

Space travel is nothing like in the movies. Getting from A to B requires complex calculations involving inertia and gravity—literally, rocket science—to "slingshot" from planet to planet (or moon) across the solar system. The Voyager mission of the 1970s took advantage of a rare alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune to shave off nearly 20 years of travel time. Space is also dangerous. More than 20 astronauts have died doing their job.

That hasn’t stopped people from signing up and blasting off. NASA’s shuttle program has ended, but private companies are readying their own space programs. A company called Planetary Resources plans to send robot astronauts to the Asteroid Belt to mine for precious metals. Another company named SpaceX is hoping to land civilian astronauts on Mars—the next human step into the solar system—in 20 years. NASA and other civilian companies are planning their own Mars missions. Maybe you’ll be a member of one? Don’t forget to bring your dog.

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15 things kids should know about space travel

Neil Armstrong was the first man on the Moon — but only a few pictures from the crew’s cameras show him on his historic moonwalk. In one of them (above), he is visible as a reflection in Buzz Aldrin’s helmet. Credit: NASA

Professional and amateur astronomers alike love to share facts about our amazing universe: “The brightest star is…,” “A black hole is…,” and lots more. These facts are so incredible that we sometimes overlook our own little corner of the cosmos and how humans have ventured into it. Space exploration, however, goes hand in hand with astronomy. So, I’ve come up with a list of 15 simple facts about spaceflight that you can share with your children — or with your non-astronomer friends.

1. Russia was first

3 uses of space travel

Yep, Russia (then the main country of the Soviet Union) beat the U.S. in spaceflight pretty much every step of the way until NASA landed people on the Moon. The first artificial satellite — Sputnik, launched Oct. 4, 1957 — was Russian. So was the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, who also became the first person to orbit Earth. That happened April 12, 1961. The first woman in space was also Russian. Valentina Tereshkova orbited Earth 48 times starting June 16, 1963. She’s also the only woman who ever flew a mission to space alone.

2. Space begins above our atmosphere

Believe it or not, there is a legal definition for where space begins. That’s because the movements of spacecraft are regulated by different treaties than those of aircraft. Most countries use the Kármán line , which is named for Hungarian-American physicist Theodore von Kármán, the first person to calculate an altitude where space begins. The Kármán line lies 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level.

3. Rockets were invented long ago

The Chinese invented rockets perhaps as early as the 10th century. Some historians date their first recorded use to 1232. Early Chinese rockets used gunpowder as fuel, so they were a lot like fireworks. Soldiers attached an arrow to each rocket and launched them at their enemies during battles. By the 15th century, militaries around the world had adopted rocket technology.

4. Robert Goddard was a pioneer rocket man

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Goddard was an American inventor who built the first liquid-fueled rocket. Historians credit the launch of his first rocket, on March 16, 1926, with starting the modern age of rocketry. Over the next decade, he and his team launched several dozen rockets, which traveled as fast as 550 mph (885 km/h) and as high as 1.6 miles (2.6 km).

5. Sputnik changed everything

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If the question is “When did the Space Age start?” , the answer is “When Sputnik was launched.” In the 1950s, the Soviet Union was in a race with the U.S. to be the first country to send a satellite into space. Scientists and engineers on both sides spent years trying to reach this goal. Then, on Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, which became Earth’s first artificial satellite (i.e., one launched by humans). Sputnik had four radio antennas and measured 23 inches (58 centimeters) across. It orbited Earth once every 96 minutes and 12 seconds. The radio transmitter Sputnik carried only sent back beeps. It worked for three weeks until the batteries ran out. And although the message was simple, it seemed to tell every radio operator on Earth who listened to it, “The Soviet Union is in space.”

6. Alan Shepard was first for the U.S.

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Shepard was a naval pilot and one of seven people chosen for Project Mercury, NASA’s first space program. On May 5, 1961, he became the first American and the second person in space. In 1971, he became the fifth astronaut — and, at age 47, the oldest — to walk on the Moon.

7. The “Moon race” began with a speech

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On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech to a crowd of about 40,000 at Rice University Stadium in Houston, Texas. Among other things, Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” However, The line that most historians think started the race to land a person on the Moon didn’t come from this speech. Instead, it came from an address to Congress May 25, 1961, in which Kennedy said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” And although Kennedy didn’t live to see it, in July 1969, the U.S. did exactly that.

8. Neil Armstrong was first on the Moon

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This naval pilot entered the astronaut program in 1962. He first flew into space in 1966 aboard Gemini 8. That mission featured the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit. Later, he was named commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission, the first human Moon landing.

9. Spacewalks aren’t really walks

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Many astronauts have completed an extravehicular activity (EVA) in space. Astronauts often refer to this as a spacewalk. But usually, that term means going outside a vessel in orbit, attached by a cord.

In 1965, the Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first human to walk in space. The journey, during his Voskhod 2 mission, lasted 12 minutes. The first U.S. spacewalk took place later in 1965, when astronaut Ed White walked in space for 23 minutes during the Gemini 4 mission.

10. That’s a long time in space

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Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov spent 437 days and 18 hours on a single trip to space, the longest ever by any human. He launched to the Mir space station Jan. 8, 1994, and returned to Earth March 22, 1995. The longest spaceflight by a woman is 328 days. NASA astronaut Christina Koch launched to the International Space Station March 14, 2019. She returned to Earth Feb. 6, 2020.

11. This crew went the fastest

On May 26, 1969, the crew of NASA’s Apollo 10 mission (Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan) reached a speed of 24,791 mph (39,897 km/h), or about 32 times faster than the speed of sound on Earth at sea level.

12. Spaceflight is dangerous

As of this writing, 30 humans have been killed in the pursuit of outer space. Six were Soviet or Russian cosmonauts, one was Israeli, and the rest were U.S. astronauts. Of these, 11 were killed during training or test flights and 19 were killed in actual flight. The latter group includes two seven-person crews aboard the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia , which were destroyed during atmospheric flight. The three-man crew of Soyuz 11 are the only people to have died in space.

13. Spacesuits are important

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Space is a harsh environment. It’s extremely cold and there’s no atmosphere. Plus, human beings are pretty fragile creatures. So, exploring space means using special suits that allow astronauts to breathe and stay at the right temperature.

In 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin wore the first spacesuit; since then, they have come a long way. In the U.S., the Project Mercury spacesuits were just a bit different from the jumpsuits worn by fighter pilots. Each had a bubble-shaped helmet and its own air supply. The Gemini suits were more advanced and there were several types. One was for wearing inside the spacecraft, while others were for spacewalks.

NASA’s spacesuits took a big leap forward with the Apollo missions. These suits were larger and made so astronauts could walk around on the Moon for hours. The suits were fireproof and had a liquid cooling system inside. The outer layer protected astronauts from possible strikes from micrometeoroids, tiny particles of rock that zip through space at high speeds.

Space shuttle astronauts wore partially pressurized suits adapted from the Air Force. And shuttle astronauts on spacewalks used the advanced extravehicular mobility unit, which gave them a lot more protection.

Future spacesuits will be even better. New models are already being used by SpaceX astronauts and will be used by the men and women who journey back to the Moon.

14. Astronauts use the bathroom in space

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Bathrooms became very important for Alan Shepard, NASA’s first astronaut. There was no toilet because the flight would last only 15 minutes. Nobody thought that he might have to wait in his capsule for about four hours before the launch. When he asked to go, the command crew first said no, but finally said OK — but he couldn’t leave the capsule. Luckily, the air flowing through his suit dried everything out before the launch. After that, NASA designed equipment to deal with pee. 

The first one was connected to a plastic tube, a valve, a clamp, and a collection bag. It wasn’t great because it sometimes leaked. In 1962, John Glenn used one on his five-hour flight.

Because the Gemini flights were a lot longer than earlier ones, NASA finally had to deal with poop in space. The first equipment was pretty simple: a bag that the astronauts taped to their butts. NASA’s first space station, Skylab, needed a toilet because astronauts would be living in space for months. Unfortunately, it was just a hole in the wall with a fan for suction and a bag.

With women as part of the space shuttle crews, NASA needed to rethink their toilet design. It was called the Waste Collection System. The opening was much smaller than a regular toilet hole, so an astronaut’s aim had to be good! Today, astronauts on the International Space Station use a much larger toilet and a vacuum sucks waste away. The waste then goes into a container that its jettisoned and burns up in Earth’s atmosphere. Using the bathroom in space is still a pain, but it’s a lot better than it was.

15. The future looks bright

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The U.S., Russia, China, India, and other nations are all active with big plans for their space programs. And rather than governments being the only players in space, private companies are now joining the effort. SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and more are getting involved in space travel.

The U.S. and China both have plans to return humans to the Moon. Japan and South Korea are planning their first robotic lunar-landing missions, too. Several countries, space organizations, and companies would also like to send humans to Mars. This would be an extremely expensive, time-consuming, and dangerous endeavor.

Many nations are also actively exploring our solar system via robotic craft, including the United Arab Emirates, which recently sent a probe to Mars for the first time. There are missions from the U.S., Europe, and Japan — both planned and underway — to visit asteroids and comets, and other missions will explore the outer planets and their moons.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in 2022 and has been updated.

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13 Things Tourists Should Know Before Traveling to Space, According to Astronauts

We asked the pros for their best tips on handling a first trip to space.

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For most of human spaceflight history, those lucky enough to reach the stars were professional astronauts hired and trained by government agencies around the world. But since the early 2000s, when seven intrepid travelers paid millions to spend a few days aboard the International Space Station (ISS), space tourism has begun to take off. We're now on the cusp of a new era of space exploration, with commercial companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin launching spacecraft capable of taking paying travelers beyond the Earth's surface.

We spoke with former NASA astronauts Leroy Chiao and Scott Parazynski to get their tips for first-time spaceflight participants. During his 15 years with NASA, Chiao participated in four missions — three aboard the space shuttle and one to the ISS, in which he served as commander. Parazynski worked at NASA for 17 years, flying five shuttle missions throughout his career. Read on to discover what they think aspiring space tourists need to know.

Your only job on the flight will be to kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

If you're taking a suborbital flight, which is what companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have offered, your ride will be a quick up-and-down to reach space, rather than a full orbit of the Earth. The short journey is relatively easy compared to what professional astronauts experience. For starters, you won't need to worry about flying your spacecraft. That's all up to the spaceflight provider. "You won't have any responsibility other than to enjoy the experience — and not kick anyone else in the head," says Parazynski. "Their obligations on the flight are pretty straightforward."

As such, the training programs for suborbital space tourist experiences are relatively minimal, perhaps only a few days in length at most. "The downside of not having a lot of training is that you don't have the confidence that comes from lots of training," says Parazynski. "Contrast that with the training I had on the space shuttle, where we trained for hundreds and hundreds of hours for launching in space. If something were to go awry, we would know exactly what to do and our hearts wouldn't skip a beat."

So, other than learning to place your complete trust in your spaceflight provider, Parazynski recommends talking to people who have flown before in order to ease any nervousness. Chiao agrees: "The best advice I can give on launch — and it's easy to say, harder to do — is to try to relax and enjoy the whole process," he says. "Pay attention during your training, talk to other people who've been there if you can. And actually, you might be surprised — it's quite calm!"

Make sure you’re physically and mentally fit.

"I think people should treat this as their Olympics or Super Bowl. This is a really big life experience, and though you don't need to be an Olympic athlete or a Super Bowl champion to fly in space, it helps to be fit," says Parazynski. After all, your body will be experiencing quite a range of new sensations during your spaceflight."

But it's not just about physical fitness — mental fitness is key, too. "I think through fitness comes mental acuity as well," says Parazynski. "The more you can be engaged in the experience, the more you'll remember of it — it'll be more impactful to you."

The G-forces experienced on launch and reentry are not as intense as you might expect.

If you've ever watched a livestream of an astronaut launch, caught any Hollywood flick about space travel, or ridden Mission: Space at Walt Disney World's Epcot theme park, you know that during launch, astronauts get crushed back into their seats. (And, actually, during reentry, too!) They're experiencing strong G-forces, or a sensation of weight felt during acceleration. It's the same feeling you get when you speed up quickly in a car or zoom through a loop or a sharp curve on a roller coaster, but during a rocket launch, those forces are stronger and more sustained. While the experience might seem a little terrifying, the pros say it's quite manageable.

"The G-forces aren't nearly as bad as they show in the movies," says Chiao. "If you're good enough to be given medical approval to go on a trip like this, you're not going to have any problems handling the G-forces." He also notes that you'll likely go through centrifugal runs during your training to prep for the sensation — you'll be strapped into a spinning machine that lets you experience strong G-forces, just like that spinning amusement park ride where you're pressed against the wall and the floor drops.

But to make launch and reentry as comfortable on your body as possible, you'll want to physically relax your muscles so you don't fight against the G-forces. "If you relax and let your body sink into the launch couch, you're going to tolerate it much better," says Chiao. "If you're rigid, that's where you might hurt yourself. And make sure your limbs and arms are inside of the couch."

To prep for weightlessness, you should book a zero-gravity flight.

While it takes quite a bit of effort (and time and money) to get into space to experience weightlessness, you can actually experience the sensation right here on Earth — or rather, just slightly above it. All you need to do is book a zero-gravity flight , where a plane flies in a series of parabolas (or arch-like shapes) during which passengers experience simulated weightlessness through free fall.

It's physically the same as skydiving or even riding a roller coaster, but in those two instances, your senses tell you you're actually falling. "When you're in a zero-G airplane, the airplane is falling at the same rate you are, so you're floating inside the airplane," says Chiao. "That's what it's like in a spacecraft when you get up into space and the engines cut off."

Through commercial companies like the Zero Gravity Corporation , anyone who can spare the cost of a ticket can experience weightlessness — and anyone who's planning on making a trip to space should definitely give it a go. "If they have the means, they should get on a zero-G flight before they go on a suborbital flight," says Parazynski. "It would take some of the mystery out of 'what am I going to feel like?' and 'how do I move?'"

Learning how to scuba dive is good weightlessness training, too.

While being underwater isn't exactly like floating in space, it's a pretty good way to practice moving around in a weightless environment. In fact, NASA even has a life-sized replica of the ISS set inside a giant pool, so astronauts can train for spacewalks underwater.

"Moving in weightlessness comes to you very quickly when you spend some time underwater," says Parazynski. "Get neutrally buoyant underwater and very gently try and move yourself along the ocean floor or bottom of your pool. It doesn't take a lot of force, but it does take a lot of thought."

Come up with a game plan for your few minutes in space.

On suborbital flights, you're only going to have a few minutes in weightlessness, so you should plan exactly how you want to spend your time up there. Figure out if you'd like to bring a memento like a family photo or college pennant for a fun picture. (U.S. Naval Academy graduates and former astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford famously put a "Beat Army" sign in the window of their Gemini VI spacecraft, so there's a long tradition of this.) Decide in advance if you want to attempt what spaceflight veterans call "stupid astronaut tricks," like flips or spins. But most importantly, budget time to look out the window.

"The most important thing I would tell future astronauts is to savor the view out the window," says Parazynski. "It's, for lack of a better term, a God's-eye view, and so few people have ever had a chance to see it. It's really a beautiful thing to be hovering in space and looking down at your planet."

Don’t worry about taking your own photos.

"As far as taking photographs, I don't know that I would recommend it," says Chiao. "You're not going to be very good at it, first of all, because it takes a little bit of practice to get used to zero-G. Don't waste that time taking photos. Get your memories, look out those windows, and enjoy the whole experience of being weightless." Plus, given the price tag of these spaceflights, we're pretty sure that your operator will provide you with photos and videos of your journey anyway.

When you get into zero gravity, you might feel a little dizzy.

The body functions a bit differently when you remove gravity from the equation for a sustained period of time, and side effects may include dizziness and nausea. "You're going to feel full-headed because there's no longer gravity pulling fluid down into your legs," says Chiao. "And so all that fluid comes up into your torso, and you can feel it right away. It feels kind of like you're standing on your head."

But the good news is, on suborbital flights you might be able to avoid the worst of it. "The adrenaline and excitement are going to make you do OK at first, and by the time you might start feeling bad, it's time to strap back in and come back down," says Chiao.

If you’re spending a few days in space, be prepared for some bumps and bruises.

On a suborbital flight, you won't have a ton of time in space, so you won't really have to worry about acclimating to zero gravity. However, some private spaceflight companies are looking to send their clients up into orbit for longer stays and there are even talks of a space hotel within Voyager Station . If you're going to spend a few days or even a few weeks up in space, you're probably going to bump your head more than once, no matter how much you've trained for the experience.

"It's really funny watching rookie astronauts the first day or two up on a mission," says Parazynski. "We called them the bull in a china shop. They push off with full force and they crack their skull or bang their knee."

You’re also going to make a mess.

Doing routine tasks like brushing your teeth (you can't just spit your toothpaste into a sink), clipping your fingernails (you don't want them floating off into your space station), and going to the bathroom (have you ever thought about how to use a toilet without gravity?) are all very different experiences in weightlessness. Inevitably, you might have a few mishaps early on in your trip.

"Just sitting down for a meal, you put your fork down, and it's gone in 30 seconds," says Parazynski. "You may find it two days later in the cabin air cleaner because that's where the air currents have taken it." Luckily, a lost fork is an easy mess to clean up — and the situation can be prevented by tethering it down. Other messes are a different story.

"As far as using the restroom, that's what you need to pay attention to during your training. The toilet is not particularly simple and you have to be careful," says Chiao. (In case you were wondering, space toilets use airflow to guide things where they're supposed to go.) "But be prepared to make some messes," says Chiao. "And everybody has to clean up their own mess."

If you’re going to do a spacewalk, the stakes are much higher for you and your crew.

If you want to zip around space with a jetpack like George Clooney in "Gravity," sorry, but chances are that's not going to happen any time soon. Most private astronauts will be safely tucked inside their craft for the duration of their flight.

Unlike suborbital flights, future orbital flights with a spacewalk will require extensive training, given that spacewalks are inherently more dangerous than simply riding in a vessel. "If you're careless with your tethers and you float off into the void, there's not a whole lot anyone can come do for you," says Parazynski. It's possible that a crewmate may be able to head out to rescue you, but then you're endangering their life as well. "It's paramount for a spacewalker to think not just about their own health and well-being and their experience, but also that of their crewmates," he says.

If you’re in a capsule, be prepared for a bumpy landing.

While the only way up to space is by rocket, there are two ways to come back down: via a winged vehicle, like the space shuttle or Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, or a capsule, like Apollo, Soyuz, and Blue Origin's New Shepard. The experiences are quite different, as winged vehicles land like an airplane on a runway, whereas capsules descend beneath parachutes onto land or water. While both experience a range of G-forces during reentry, capsules have a bit of a rougher ride, particularly at the very end.

"When the parachute comes out, you can expect to get jostled around a fair amount, so that can be disorienting," says Chiao. "Then, whether you're hitting the water or the ground, you're gonna get a good bump. There are shock-absorbing mechanisms, of course, that make it not too big a deal. But on Soyuz, you smack the ground pretty darn hard. It was kind of surprising!"

It’ll be worth every penny.

Sure, it's going to cost a small fortune to go into space as a tourist — for now, that's somewhere in the ballpark of several hundred thousand dollars for a suborbital flight and millions of dollars for longer-duration orbital stays. But ask any astronaut, and they're sure to tell you it'll be worth the investment.

"What I would tell prospective astronauts is that it's going to change their lives forever," says Parazynski. "It's a perspective that can't be captured in emotion on film. Even in 3D IMAX, there's no way to capture the way it's going to make you feel, the connectedness you feel to planet Earth, and the awe you have when you look out into the universe."

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Netflix's 3 Body Problem Reveals a Surprisingly Brilliant Mode of Space Travel

The idea of space travel with parachutes and nuclear explosions will sound plenty familiar to NASA alum.

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In 1946, only a year after the explosive and devastating debut of the nuclear age, Polish-American mathematician and physicist Stanislaw Ulam had an idea for a rocket that was so crazy it just might work.

During the war, Ulam worked side-by-side with Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller on the creation of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, and now that peace was achieved, the future of the nuclear age was only just beginning. It was during this moment of possibility while still conducting research at the famous New Mexico facility, that Ulam’s thoughts turned toward the stars: Could the explosive power of the atomic bomb be used for exploration instead of destruction?

In other words, could nuclear bombs somehow become deep-space rocket engines?

“It is a very ambitious but efficient way to undertake space explorations with a vehicle able to travel at high speeds with high payloads and an extremely good ratio of payload to total initial weight,” Ulam wrote in his 1976 memoir Adventures of a Mathematician . “The spaceship could transport hundreds or thousands of people.”

3 uses of space travel

Earthlings want to send a probe light years away to spy on the San-Ti, but need an idea to get there, fast.

Fast-forward to 2024 and Ulam’s nuclear daydreaming is enjoying a renaissance of sorts as the Netflix series The Three-Body Problem , based on a novel by Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin, cribs the idea as a fast-and-not-so-easy way to propel a payload to incredible speeds. To achieve this, the characters devise a “radiation sail” to be propelled by a thousand consecutive nuclear explosions in space until the spacecraft reaches a velocity just a notch above 1 percent of lightspeed.

But while the Three-Body Problem uses Ulam’s nuclear rocket for decidedly sci-fi ends, the 80-year-long story of this developing technology, known today as nuclear pulse propulsion (NPP), is very real — and it may still be the future of space exploration.

An Explosive History

Every rocket humanity has ever sent skyward has been powered by chemical fuel, a combination of kerosene, oxygen, and hydrogen, or both, with enough “oomph” to escape Earth’s orbit and reach its otherworldly destination. That’s how the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon, how the Space Shuttle crews built the International Space Station, and how future space explorers will put bootprints on Mars.

But similar to how fission (and especially fusion) represent efficient energy sources of the future, the same can also be said for rocketry. And while the idea of riding the concussive explosions of a nuclear bomb may seem strange, the idea isn’t quite as strange as you might think.

“Your car is a pulsed system because the piston is compressing gas and air together, and then it explodes and pushes the piston apart,” Jason Cassibry, a professor at the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, tells Inverse . Cassibry is affiliated with the university’s Propulsion Research Center where he recently worked on a pulsed propulsion system similar to magneto-inertial fusion technology. “So every time you explode [a bomb] according to Newton's second law, it would give it an increase in momentum and accelerate it, just like you would driving your car and stepping on the gas.”

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NASA’s Project Orion involves a heavy-lift vehicle that used atomic bombs to detonate behind a pusher plate fitted with shock absorbers.

Ulam recognized the beautiful simplicity of a pulsed system, and after mulling over the idea for years, he finally put his thoughts to paper in a classified 1955 report, stating that “the scheme proposed in the present report involves the use of a series of expendable reactors (fission bombs) ejected and detonated at a considerable distance from the vehicle.” Ulam eventually presented the idea to President Eisenhower’s scientific advisor George Kistiakowsky whose “reception of it was not enthusiastic,” Ulam wrote in his memoir.

Despite initial skepticism, the idea eventually gathered steam under the infamous Project Orion , a heavy-lift vehicle concept that used atomic bombs, ranging from a few to several kilotons, to detonate behind a pusher plate fitted with shock absorbers to limit the impact of that initial, explosive acceleration. While many of the early design challenges of the spacecraft were overcome, the project shut down in 1965 due to nuclear treaties that prohibited nuclear explosions in space. Chemical rockets had also become more powerful and were clearly NASA’s preferred chariot to the stars during the Space Race.

But the idea didn't die and several projects carried the NPP flame with names like Project Daedelus , Project Longshot , and Vista . One of the most intriguing ideas was a spacecraft concept known as Medusa that altered the pulsed propulsion design using a lightweight sail (technically a spinnaker) to harness the pressure pulses of subsequent nuclear explosions, a concept that’s extremely similar to the one explored in the Three-Body Problem . Sadly, none of these concepts — including Cassibry’s own Pulsed Fission-Fusion (PuFF) system — ever made it to the launch pad, largely due to technological limitations and lingering concerns over detonating nuclear explosions in space.

“There was a resurrection of Project Orion in the 90s when Clinton was in office, and when they got to the level to talk to some of his staffers…they said ‘no way are we putting nuclear weapons in space,’” Cassibry says. “Now, they’re even more sensitive to it — even though the Cold War is over, there are still concerns.”

Space Travel Goes Nuclear

However, not all nuclear propulsion systems are the same.

While Cassibry worked on pulsed systems, ostensibly the great-grandchild of Ulam’s original vision, other systems include nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) and nuclear electric propulsion (NEP). While all three are based on nuclear technology, NTP and NEP use more traditional fission systems (i.e. heating up propellant, which turns to gas, and results in propulsion). So unlike NPP, which uses microexplosions for propulsion (much to the chagrin of international nuclear treaties), NTP and NEP systems can’t be weaponized.

While all three technologies use different methods and have various use cases, nuclear propulsion — whether through fission heating or nuclear explosion — has some pretty stark advantages over its chemical competitor.

“There are certain missions to the ice giants — Uranus and Neptune — that could not be done, given all the constraints that you put on a mission that far out, with anything other than nuclear thermal,” Cassibry says. “[NTP] is more straightforward than some of the things we could do…it’s kind of low-hanging fruit in terms of advanced propulsion concepts.”

NASA has taken notice and hopes to test its Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) NTP rocket in 2026. Being three times more efficient than chemical rockets, that means Draco could travel from the Earth to Mars in just 45 days or carry increased cargo loads in a more conventional timeframe. However, Cassibry still believes that nuclear pulse propulsion, using fission, fusion, or a combination of the two, will ultimately outperform even these nuclear-powered spacecraft decades down the road.

“There’s a joke that crushes my soul every time I hear it that fusion is the technology of the future and it always will be,” Cassibry says. “But we started with really, really, really terrible reactors and we’ve been making steady progress…we’ll see fusion propulsion being possible within about 20 to 30 years.”

Whether on a popular Netflix show or in the minds of the leading space propulsion experts, it would seem Ulam’s dream is alive and well.

3 uses of space travel

The History of Space Travel Timeline

Albert II became the first monkey in space on June 14, 1949, in a specially adapted US V2 rocket.

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To travel into the unknown of space is a dream for so many children and adults alike, although one that very few will ever reach.

Throughout time so many countries, and now private companies, across the world have tried to create a method of getting in amongst the stars.

It’s even united countries that previously had such strong conflict.

Here we’re going to go through a timeline of the significant moments in the history of space travel, starting way back in the 1940s.

In 1942 the German V2 rocket, designed by Wernher Von Braun, was the first to reach 100km (62 miles) from the Earth’s surface.

Also known as the boundary of space.

Braun later worked with NASA on the rockets that went to the moon.

In 1947, the first animals went into space.

Fruit flies were used to study the effects of space travel on animals as they’re very similar to humans.

The flies traveled with a supply of corn to eat on the flight.

Albert II the first monkey in space

Albert II was the first monkey in space.

Albert II was a Rhesus monkey and boldly went where no primate had been before on June 14 , 1949, in a specially adapted US V2 rocket, that flew 83 miles from Earth.

On October 4 , 1957, Russia launched the first space satellite (or sputnik in Russian) named Sputnik 1.

Sputnik 1 was the first satellite in orbit around the earth.

In November the same year, Laika the Russian dog became the first animal to orbit the earth. Laika is Russian for “Barker”.

She traveled in Sputnik 2 and helped understand whether people could survive in space.

By 1959 Both US and Russian scientists were in a race to get a craft to the Moon; the Russians won.

Space-probe Luna 2 crash-landed into the moon at fatal speeds.

Ten years later, the first human visited the surface.

Yuri Gagarin in his space shuttle - the first man in space

On April 12, 1961 , Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.

Traveling in Vostok 1 he completed one orbit of the earth, landing about two hours after launch.

Gagarin had to eject and use a parachute to land as the craft was designed to crash land.

John Glenn became the first US man to orbit the Earth aboard the Friendship 7.

John actually chose this name; officially the craft is called the Mercury-Atlas 6, for the mission Mercury and it being the 6 th flight to use the faster Atlas rocket.

Valentina Tereshkova the first woman in space

Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian cosmonaut, became the first woman in space.

After her mission, she had a crater on the far side of the Moon is named after her.

Who could believe, after just sending men to the moon, NASA managed to successfully conduct the first Mars flyby with their Mariner 4 craft.

In 1963 John F. Kennedy promised that by 1970 the US would have put men on the moon.

NASA firstly sent a robot spaceship called Surveyor 1, to make sure they could safely land.

It reached the moon on May 30 , 1966, just after the Russian probe Luna 9.

Once Surveyor 1 landed it took photographs and sent them back to eagerly awaiting scientists who used them to visualize the terrain and work out a plan to land people on the moon safely.

Neil Armstrong standing next to the American flag on the moon

On July 20 , 1969, the famous “one small step” was taken by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and the first words were spoken, “the Eagle has landed”.

This iconic phrase confirmed them as the first men on the moon.

The Apollo 11 craft flew them 250,000 miles to the moon and back.

Apollo 13 on April 13, 1970 , the second day of its trip to the moon, suffered a wiring fault causing an explosion.

Using what was on board, NASA and the astronauts on board made repairs to bring the damaged craft back to Earth.

This saw the first use of the Lunar Rover, an electric vehicle with a top speed of 8 mph (13 kph), to explore the moon on the fourth, fifth and sixth Apollo missions.

The rover took Boeing 17 months to design and develop.

The first-ever space station was launched in 1971, the Russian Salyut 1, and was launched from an unmanned rocket.

In 1973 Mars 2, a 2-part Russian probe explored Mars .

One part was to stay in orbit for the whole year sending pictures back to earth and the other was to land and explore Mars’ surface.

It was destroyed when a parachute failed.

The US launched their Voyager 1 deep space probe.

Voyager 1, on February 17, 1998 , became the most distant human-made object in space after it passed the previous title holder; Pioneer 10.

From April 12, 1981, saw the idea of reusable space crafts, prior to this they were a one-hit-wonder.

The Space Shuttle was designed to lower costs and could be used up to 100 times.

With five rocket motors, it reached 17,000+ mph (27,350+ Kph). Six were built and 2011 saw their last use.

The first craft to start the Space Shuttle era was called Columbia.

Image shows the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding

On January 28, 1986 , Space Shuttle Challenger exploded due to a fuel system failure just after launch.

All seven astronauts were killed.

After this tragedy, all shuttles were grounded for almost three years.

In the same year, Construction started on the MIR space station, the first consistently inhabited long-term space station.

It was built in sections, taking 10 years, with each bit rocket-launched and combined in orbit.

In 2001 it was destroyed on its descent to earth. The ISS or International Space station also started construction in this year designed for research and space exploration.

The final major module of the ISS didn’t arrive until 2010.

The shuttle Discovery was launched to deploy the Hubble Space Telescope into Earth’s Orbit.

The telescope is able to lock onto a target without moving to about the width of a human hair seen a mile away, or more scientifically, more than 7/1000 th of an arcsecond.

Just like there are 60 minutes in an hour, there are 60 arcminutes in 1 degree, and 60 arcseconds in an arcminute.

Helen Sharman the first British woman in space

In 1989, Helen Sharman won a competition to become the first British astronaut in space, she previously worked for Mars Bar.

After 18 months of harsh training, she joined a Russian mission to the MIR space station.

After all their problems, the US and Russia finally start working together, or at least in space terms they were.

This year saw the US shuttle Atlantis dock at the Russian MIR space station.

The first look at mars occurred when Sojourner, A U.S rover, travels onto Mars to explore the planet’s geology.

In 2000 the first permanent crew inhabited the International Space Station (ISS), and have been there ever since.

On April 28, 2001 , US millionaire Dennis Tito spent around $20,000,000 and had 900 hours of training to be the first space tourist for a ride in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

He spent one week in orbit and of this time he spent most visiting the ISS.

This symbolized the hopes for space travel, for it to become a normal venture one day for everyone.

On June 21 , 2004, the first privately funded manned space flight happened with the craft SpaceShipOne.

An adaptation of this technology is being used by Virgin Galactic, a company offering private tourist flights into space.

Even though in 2014 it crashed during testing, flights are still happening.

In this year, the European Space Agency launched their Rosetta probe hoping to reach Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

A picture of the SpaceX station

SpaceX, a private company that built a craft to replace the newly retired Space Shuttle, became the first to launch a privately funded liquid-fueled rocket into Orbit, the Falcon 1.

These rockets are used to launch their Dragon capsule, a remote-controlled capsule that takes supplies to the ISS.

The U.S Messenger mission to Mercury , launched in 2004, made its journey successfully traveling 48 million miles (77 million km), to begin its yearlong orbit of the mysterious planet.

Russia launched the largest space telescope to date named Spekt-R beating the Hubble.

The device is built to study astronomical objects with an angular resolution of a few millionths of an arcsecond.

The colossal telescope weighed 11,000 pounds (5,000 kilograms).

A major moment for commercial space travel started on May 22 nd , SpaceX launched another Dragon C2+ powered by their Falcon 9 rocket to deliver a resupplying capsule to the ISS.

The capsule was caught by the ISS’s robotic arm and docked for nearly six days while astronauts removed cargo and loaded that destined for Earth, a trip it made with no real complications.

NASA’s Curiosity rover, a piece of equipment the size of a car, landed on Mars on August 6 th .

It’s the largest and most advanced rover ever to land on the red planet.

On August 25 th , Voyager 1, launched in the late ‘70s, became the first man-made spacecraft to cross into interstellar space.

Rosetta Probe making landfalll

The Rosetta probe, launched in 2004, finally reached Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko after a 4 billion-mile journey.

Whilst on the comet, the lander sent data and high-resolution images from the Comet’s surface back to earth including 490-foot cliffs and house-sized boulders.

The Philae lander made a soft landing on November 12 th after a perilous 7-hour descent.

Harpoons designed to attach to the comet failed, and the lander bounced twice before landing successfully.

On March 6 th , NASA’s Dawn spacecraft entered an orbit around a dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter .

With a 590 mile (950 km) diameter, it makes up a quarter of the mass of the belt.

July 14 th saw NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft arrive at Pluto after traveling 9 years and 4.6 billion miles.

It passes, during its closest approach, only 7,750 miles from the surface and took high-resolution photos of Pluto and Charon, the largest moon.

Pluto is said to be about 50 miles larger than thought.

Mars Rover robot on computer-generated martial land

On July 30 , 2020, at 11:50 UTC, NASA launched their Mars Rover, which was the largest of four missions to Mars in 2020 . 

Without a doubt, this mission plans to be the most fruitful with the craft equipped with state-of-the-art modern technology and engineering capable of truly exploring the martian land like never before!

The Mars Rover’s mission among other things is to see if the red planet has ever accommodated extra-terrestrial life by exploring any signs of habitable conditions both in the past and present.

Space travel has for so many people mesmerized them from a very young age, myself included, and as this list has shown, there is always something new to discover!

We have barely scratched the surface, and yet every year we learn or launch something new with the dream of reaching some unknown bit of the universe.

To travel to the furthest edge man can reach will always be the aim.

To unearth the secrets hidden, to find life or anything that’s interesting and bewildering drives some of the best minds in the world every day.

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About the Five Hazards

A human journey to Mars, at first glance, offers an inexhaustible amount of complexities. To bring such a mission to the Red Planet from fiction to fact, NASA’s  Human Research Program  has pinpointed five hazards that astronauts will encounter on their journeys. These include  space radiation ,  isolation and confinement ,  distance from Earth ,  gravity  (and the lack of it), and  closed or hostile environments.  Scroll down to learn details involving each hazard.

Pooling the challenges of human spaceflight into categories allows for an organized effort to overcome the obstacles that lay before such a mission. However, these hazards do not stand alone. They can feed off one another and exacerbate effects on the human body, which are being studied using ground-based analogs , laboratories, and the  International Space Station . These locations all serve as test beds to evaluate human performance, as well as the effectiveness of strategies that could keep astronauts safe and healthy in space.

Through meticulous research, NASA is gaining valuable insight into how the human body and mind might respond during extended forays into space. The resulting data, technology, and methods serve as a knowledge bank from which scientists can extrapolate to multi-year interplanetary missions.

Explore the five hazards of human spaceflight below:

3 uses of space travel

Space Radiation

Invisible to the human eye, space radiation is not only stealthy but considered one of the most hazardous aspects of spaceflight.

3 uses of space travel

Isolation and Confinement

Behavioral responses occur among groups of people far from Earth who are isolated and confined in a small space over a long period of time.

An illustration of the Moon and Mars above the Earth's horizon.

Distance from Earth

Instructions, new supplies, medical care, and more become increasingly challenging to receive from Earth as astronauts venture deeper into space.

3 uses of space travel

Gravity Fields

Astronauts' entire bodies – muscles, bones, inner ear, and organs – must adjust to the new gravities encountered on the space station or their spacecraft, as well as on the Moon, Mars, and Earth once they return home.

3 uses of space travel

Hostile/Closed Environments

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Hazards

This hazard of a human mission to Mars is the most difficult to visualize because, well, space radiation is invisible to the human eye. Radiation is not only stealthy, but considered one of the most hazardous aspects of spaceflight.

Hazards

Behavioral responses occur among groups of people isolated and confined in a small space over a long period of time.  Crews must be carefully chosen, trained, and supported to ensure they can work effectively as a team for months or years in space.

Hazards

Distance From Earth

Mars is, on average, 140 million miles from Earth. Rather than a three-day lunar trip, astronauts would be leaving our planet for roughly three years. Planning and self-sufficiency will be key to successful deep space missions.

Hazards

On Mars, astronauts would need to live and work in three-eighths of Earth’s gravitational pull for up to two years. Throughout this time, their bodies – muscles, bones, inner ear, and organs – will be adjusting to new gravitational loads.

Hazards

A spacecraft is not only a home, it’s also a machine. The ecosystem inside a vehicle plays a big role in everyday astronaut life. Important habitability factors include temperature, pressure, lighting, noise, the presence of microbes, and more.

The Human Body in Space

For more than 50 years, NASA’s Human Research Program (HRP) has studied what happens to the human body in space. Researchers…

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Scientists Release Largest Trove of Data on How Space Travel Affects the Human Body

A collection of 44 new studies, largely based on a short-duration tourist trip in 2021, provides insight into the health effects of traveling to space

Will Sullivan

Will Sullivan

Daily Correspondent

Two astronauts in space with their hair standing up and the Earth behind them

More and more humans are traveling to space. Several missions in 2021 took private citizens on tourist flights. Last month, six people flew to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere and back. NASA plans to put astronauts back on the moon later this decade, and SpaceX recently tested a rocket it hopes will one day carry humans to Mars.

With even more ambitious crewed flights on the horizon, scientists want to better understand the effects that space’s stressors—such as exposure to radiation and a lack of gravity—have on the human body. Now, a newly released set of 44 papers and troves of data, called the Space Omics and Medical Atlas (SOMA), aims to do just that.

SOMA is the largest collection of data on aerospace medicine and space biology ever compiled. It dramatically expands the amount of information available on how the human body changes during spaceflight. And the first studies to come out of this project improve scientists’ understanding of how space travel affects human health.

“This will allow us to be better prepared when we’re sending humans into space for whatever reason,” Allen Liu , mechanical engineer at the University of Michigan who is not involved in the project, tells Adithi Ramakrishnan of the Associated Press (AP).

Much of the new atlas is based on data collected from the four members of the Inspiration4 mission , a space tourism flight that sent four civilians on a three-day trip to low-Earth orbit in September 2021. The findings suggest people on short-term flights experience some of the same health impacts that astronauts face on long-term trips to space.

“We don’t yet fully understand all of the risks” of long-duration space travel, Amy McGuire , a biomedical ethicist at Baylor College of Medicine who did not contribute to the work, says to Science ’s Ramin Skibba. “This is also why it is so important that early space tourists participate in research.”

Space travel poses a number of risks to health. Without Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field to protect them, astronauts are exposed to space radiation , which can increase their risk for cancer and degenerative diseases. Fluid shifts into astronauts’ heads when they are experiencing weightlessness, which can contribute to vision problems , headaches and changes in the structure of the brain . The microgravity environment can also lead to a loss of bone density and atrophied muscles , prompting long-haul astronauts to adopt specific exercise regimens .

But on top of those known risks, the new research highlights other potential issues. One study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications found that mice exposed to a dose of radiation meant to simulate a round trip to Mars experienced kidney damage and dysfunction. Human travelers might need to be on dialysis on the way back from the Red Planet if they were not protected from this radiation, writes the Guardian ’s Ian Sample.

“It’s likely to be a serious issue,” Stephen Walsh , a co-author of the study and clinician scientist at University College London, tells the publication. “It’s very hard to see how that’s going to be okay.”

The health information from the Inspiration4 astronauts sheds light on how space travel can affect private citizens who have not extensively trained for it. The findings also highlight changes to cells and DNA that can occur during short trips to space.

Biomarkers that changed during the Inspiration4 mission returned to normal a few months after the trip, suggesting that space travel doesn’t pose a greater risk to civilians than it does for trained astronauts, Christopher Mason , a geneticist at Cornell University who helped put together the atlas, says to New Scientist ’s Clare Wilson.

The Inspiration4 research also suggests women may recover faster from space travel than men. Data from the mission’s two male and two female participants, along with data from 64 NASA astronauts, indicated that gene activity related to the immune system was more disrupted in male astronauts, per the Guardian . And men’s immune systems took longer to return to normal once back on Earth.

Taken together, the new papers could help researchers learn how to ameliorate the harms space travel can cause, Afshin Beheshti , a co-author of the work and a researcher with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, says to the AP.

And the scientists say nothing in the data suggests humans should not go to space.

“There’s no showstopper,” Mason tells the Washington Post ’s Joel Achenbach. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to safely get to Mars and back.”

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Will Sullivan

Will Sullivan | | READ MORE

Will Sullivan is a science writer based in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in Inside Science and NOVA Next .

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COMMENTS

  1. Space Travel Technology

    Space Travel. The path to the Moon, Mars, and beyond requires technologies to get us where we need to go quickly, safely and efficiently. Space travel includes launch and in-space propulsion systems, cryogenic fluid management, and thermal management, as well as navigation and landing systems to get our supplies, equipment, and robotic or human ...

  2. 18 Biggest Advantages and Disadvantages of Space Exploration

    Space exploration gives us an opportunity to access new mineral resources, allowing for the privatization of this venture. It would also give us an opportunity to start building in space because the raw materials are easy to haul and transport. 10. It gives us an opportunity to see what lies beyond in the final frontier.

  3. Everything you need to know about space travel (almost)

    Everything you need to know about space travel (almost) - BBC Science Focus Magazine.

  4. 20 Inventions We Wouldn't Have Without Space Travel

    20 Inventions We Wouldn't Have Without Space Travel. May 20, 2016. Space travel has given us a wealth of knowledge which has in turn helped us create inventions and technologies that have made human life easier and helped us learn more and explore further into the universe. Download JPG.

  5. Why Go to Space

    Space exploration unites the world to inspire the next generation, make ground-breaking discoveries, and create new opportunities. Technologies and missions we develop for human spaceflight have thousands of applications on Earth, boosting the economy, creating new career paths, and advancing everyday technologies all around us.

  6. 15+ Space Age Inventions and Technologies We Use Everyday

    The agency was exploring the potential for algae to be used as a recycling agent for long-duration space travel. This eventually led to the creation of algae-based vegetable oil, later called ...

  7. 10 Benefits of Space Exploration. (Including Medical and Economical)

    The medical benefits of space exploration extend to pretty much every area of the human body. From muscle physiology to mental health. 6. Improving medical assistance in remote areas. One of the biggest challenges of space travel is solving problems when you can't send any new equipment, experts, or any other help.

  8. Benefits of space exploration

    As the space race came to an end, a new rationale for investment in space exploration emerged, focused on the pragmatic use of space for improving life on Earth. ... Proponents of space travel have noted the rich amount of precious metals that exist in space. For example, in 2021, NASA discovered a asteroid called "16 Psyche" which has more ...

  9. Future of space travel: What will it be like?

    17th Mar 2022. 🔊 Listen to this. More than 60 years have passed since the first human space flight, but the future of space travel is still being written since only about 600 people have been in orbit so far. For most people willing to experience space travel, this wish remains an unattainable dream. But let's remember that cars, planes ...

  10. Space exploration

    Space exploration is the use of astronomy and space technology to explore outer space. While the exploration of space is currently carried out mainly by astronomers with telescopes, its physical exploration is conducted both by uncrewed robotic space probes and human spaceflight.Space exploration, like its classical form astronomy, is one of the main sources for space science.

  11. Why We Should Spend More on Space Travel

    Yes, we can live without traveling to space. Indeed, we did perfectly well over all of the millennia that preceded April 12, 1961. We can meet most of our needs when we stay on Earth—we can ...

  12. Nuclear fusion: What does it mean for space exploration?

    It's when magnetic field lines converge, suddenly separate, and then join together again, producing loads of energy. By using more electromagnets and more magnetic fields, Ebrahimi envisions the ...

  13. Space exploration

    space exploration, investigation, by means of crewed and uncrewed spacecraft, of the reaches of the universe beyond Earth 's atmosphere and the use of the information so gained to increase knowledge of the cosmos and benefit humanity. A complete list of all crewed spaceflights, with details on each mission's accomplishments and crew, is ...

  14. History of Space Travel

    History of Space Travel. Learn about the history of humans traveling into space. The first earthling to orbit our planet was just two years old, plucked from the streets of Moscow barely more than a week before her historic launch. Her name was Laika. She was a terrier mutt and by all accounts a good dog. Her 1957 flight paved the way for space ...

  15. 15 things kids should know about space travel

    1. Russia was first. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space April 12, 1962. Credit: NASA. Yep, Russia (then the main country of the Soviet Union) beat the U.S. in spaceflight ...

  16. Traveling to Space: 13 Things to Know Before You Go

    Make sure you're physically and mentally fit. "I think people should treat this as their Olympics or Super Bowl. This is a really big life experience, and though you don't need to be an Olympic ...

  17. Human Space Travel Research

    Space exploration unites the world to inspire the next generation, make ground-breaking discoveries, and create new opportunities. Technologies and missions we develop for human spaceflight have thousands of applications on Earth, boosting the economy, creating new career paths, and advancing everyday technologies all around us.

  18. The 5 kinds of sci-fi space travel, ranked by realism

    Interstellar, in one of its most intense scenes, got it right. From our perspective in 3-D space, a wormhole should look like a sphere. Wormholes are an attractive approach to FTL technology ...

  19. What Netflix's '3 Body Problem' Gets Right About Space Travel

    Earthlings want to send a probe light years away to spy on the San-Ti, but need an idea to get there, fast. Fast-forward to 2024 and Ulam's nuclear daydreaming is enjoying a renaissance of sorts ...

  20. The History of Space Travel Timeline

    This saw the first use of the Lunar Rover, an electric vehicle with a top speed of 8 mph (13 kph), to explore the moon on the fourth, fifth and sixth Apollo missions. The rover took Boeing 17 months to design and develop. The first-ever space station was launched in 1971, the Russian Salyut 1, and was launched from an unmanned rocket. 1973

  21. Commercial use of space

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