SUPPORT | November 16, 2017

The Sky is No Longer the Limit

Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight

Over 48 years ago, astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first human ever to set foot on another planet by landing on the moon. That morning, I was able to watch that landing on a small black and white television in my living room. Little did I know that easier access to space would be so possible in my lifetime. Eleven other astronauts have walked on the moon since then, among the growing number of over 500 astronauts that have been to space. 

The opportunities for space travel are dramatically changing with the help of entrepreneurs, investors, and strategic companies that are focused on innovations in rocket launches and support systems. Reusability is a major factor in cost reduction, which historically has been a great challenge in securing budgets for Space exploration. We are in a new era of commercial space flight opportunities, no longer requiring governments to fund the exploration.  The private sector is now fueling access to space and fostering innovation. Space flight is no longer restricted to space professionals, as several space tourists have already flown, as companies are creating lower cost opportunities for the more casual tourist, who is attracted to the quest for human exploration. Companies such as Worldview, Blue Origin, and SpaceX plan to provide tourist access to space within this decade.

This commercial access to space also allows for never before thought of availability of research and scientific development in space vehicles ranging in size from micro-satellites to fully manned capsules. This is critical as a step to advance humanity, leveraging our DNA for exploration. We have an opportunity to learn more about our Earth by analyzing the moon, and with the potential of finding other lifeforms in the Universe we can further understand the purpose of our existence.

The International Space Station, a cooperative working research environment created by 15 countries, allows for experiments to take place in never before possible conditions. Health and medical technologies, as well as astrobiological experiments, such as with small rodents and insects, all have the potential of addressing diseases on Earth. 

Advancements in upmass launch technologies are on the verge of drastically reducing costs in access to space for entrepreneurs to further develop their businesses. Autonomous systems are being developed to allow for deeper space exploration and for scalabilty and safety. Even terrestrial autonomous vehicles will all be coordinated on the Earth through growing satellite constellations.

Connectivity amongst the inhabitants on the Earth is greatly enhanced through the use of satellite-based communications, accessible even through our everyday mobile phone. Earth observation of weather and climate change related issues, are now collected by constellations of mini, micro and cube satellites. Higher and safer food production through on-orbit survey and assessment is being made possible by new data networks. Space big data is now a market and is creating innovative business models. These are a few of many examples of how access to space will positively impact life on earth.

Each year, hundreds of technical innovations generated by space programs make their way into our earthly technology such as: better home appliances, advancements in farming equipment, faster communications, more precise maritime and aerospace technologies, safety through dangerous weather warnings, improved medical instruments, and other innovations in everyday life.

The progress that is made while solving the technical challenges of space is a catalyst for the chain reaction of innovation. While a deep space exploratory mission won’t directly address poverty and hunger on the Earth, that development process will create many spin-offs that might do so, providing a significant return of investment on the efforts. In addition to the need for mankind’s technological advancement, these developments are required if we want to continue to improve human life conditions on our ever crowding Earth.

Space development and innovation will stimulate the creation of a continuing workforce of diverse young men and women who will develop a career in science. Grand space challenge objectives must be made available, and funding for such efforts have to be provided. Budgets allocated for space programs among existing governments and new sovereign nation programs are essential to fuel this aspect of innovation.  If we could all cooperate in a space race as opposed to settling conflicts through war, the Earth would be a better place.

Some may consider space programs towards the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars to be a distraction away from our earth, but it is becoming clearer that those programs help us discover more about the planet that we live on. The sky is no longer the limit of our knowledge and opportunity.

Stephan Reckie is the executive director of GEN Space. He is a resilient, pragmatic, energetic, self-motivated, service-oriented, field… About the author