Travelling on earth is passé. Today, space missions are the rage, with people of all ages fascinated by the journey into the unknown. However, unlike what many of us think, a journey into space is much more than donning a suit and floating around in air: it’s an exhilarating cocktail of explorations, discoveries, technology and hidden treasures. In fact, if it’s not possible on earth, it will be, in space.
“Space travel is a journey into the unknown and involves the ability to not only stand, but also think on your feet as you adapt to a new reality, ”says Hazza Al Mansouri, UAE’s first astronaut.
In September 2019, Astronaut Hazzaa AlMansouri completed an 8-day scientific mission aboard the International Space Station. During his mission, a total of 16 experiments were conducted – six experiments onboard the ISS and ten experiments before and after his spaceflight. “Representing the UAE in space has been one of the most fulfilling and proud moments for me. Through their scientific work aboard the International Space Station, astronauts play a key role in finding answers to some of the pressing questions about humanity’s present and the future. Mission One’s success has played a key role in inspiring the youth of the country,” he adds.
The unknown beckons
Indeed, the idea of travelling to space has always fascinated people. What started off globally as mere orbit explorations has now become a full fledged business proposition, what with advancements in technology and a growing awareness of the immense potential that space missions hold.
“Despite the many dangers that it poses, space travel is still very popular because there is a lot out there waiting to be explored and harnessed,” Mansouri says. “Space missions help us understand fundamental questions about life and evolution while discovering and expanding new technologies, creating new employment opportunities and fostering a deeper connect with other cultures. Alien life, nature, water, oxygen-everything is seen in perspective. Regular space missions must be an integral part of any society that wishes to step into the future.”
Infinity and beyond
Studies show that our planet is likely to run out of key elements needed for modern industry and food production within the next 50 to 60 years. But unlike the earth, space resources are inexhaustible and several trillion dollars in minerals are up for grabs and the cost of mining them is getting cheaper by the day. Hence the popularity of space missions as far as governments are concerned. Another reason for this recent explosion in space-related activity is the plunging cost of launch to low Earth orbit (LEO). Space companies including SpaceX, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have significantly reduced the launch cost to LEO from historically $10,000 per Kilogram. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy now boasts the lowest cost in the industry, with a base price of $1,655 per kilogram to LEO and aiming to lower this cost further to $100 per kilogram or less. Also, sourcing rocket propellant in space from water-rich regions of the Moon or asteroids could lower transportation costs to locations beyond LEO.
So what is space travel going to be like, 10 years from now? “Technology is growing in leaps and bounds, what is a dream one minute become reality the next, thanks to its power. So it’s difficult to say what space travel or even space will be like, a decade from now. Human habitation, various international projects, easy accessibility from earth-all these are speculations, there is huge potential and nothing is impossible,” Mansouri points out.
According to US investment bank Morgan Stanley, revenues from space-related business – currently worth $350 billion – could nearly triple in size by 2040. Interestingly, getting to space is becoming easier, too, as technology has allowed space gear and spacecraft to become smaller, more efficient and cheaper. “Beyond the opportunities generated by satellite broadband Internet, the new frontiers in rocketry offer some tantalizing possibilities. Packages today delivered by airplane or truck could be delivered more quickly by rocket. Perhaps private space travel could become commercially available. Mining equipment could be sent to asteroids to extract minerals—all possible, theoretically, with the recent breakthroughs in rocketry”, the Morgan Stanley report says, making the sky and the stars seem closer and more real. Space scientists and researchers also say that by 2040, living and working in space will be common and if all goes well, space could even become a tourist hotspot. How it all eventually plays out, only time will tell.
Earth vs space
One thing is clear: “Travelling to space teaches appreciation for everything on earth. Things such as oxygen, water, food, even the ability to control our movements-we learn to be thankful for everything that we have back on solid ground,” both Mansouri and his compatriot Sultan Al Neyadi, the back-up astronaut who was also part of the space mission, say. “Even just a few minutes away from all that we are familiar with remind us not to take anything for granted. However, I’d say space missions are the beginning of new and exciting discoveries. They herald a new dawn and teach us to not be comfortable with what we have and embrace new horizons and new realities. A journey like that helps to create a future loaded with promise and possibilities.”