Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Next Space Race

Since I was a little boy I've always been fascinated by the Moon. I think it has always been one of my greatest lifes ambition to visit our closest celestial nieghbor. We may be closer today to those dreams than ever before. If anyone believed the predictions of futurists after Neil Armstrong's landing on the Moon, we would all be living on Moon colonies and vacationing in space by 1985. So what happened? Why are we no closer to these goals? After many successful Moon landings, it seems the U.S. kind of gave up. That is all about to change. China already has plans in the works to make their first journey to our closest satellite. Additionally scientists are discussing possibilities of large scale moon bases equipped with telescopes and supercomputers on the Moon. The next generation of space entrepreneurs all seem poised to stake their claims on Earth's Moon.

 China recently unveiled a five-year plan for putting astronauts on the moon, which would make it the first nation to visit since the U.S. last set foot there some 40 years ago. "China will conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing," according to the state council, also calling for deep-space exploration of other planets and asteroids. Though there is no deadline for the launch the announcement is seen as an official declaration of China's lunar goals. China is also building its own prototype space station, the Tiangong 1, before construction of a Mir-class station. It has already mapped the moon with the Chang'e-1 lunar probe, and the Shenzhou-9 docked with Tiangong-1 in June. "Since 2006, Long March rockets have accomplished 67 successful launches, sending 79 spacecraft into planned orbits and demonstrating noteworthy improvement in the reliability of China's launch vehicles." Although the space program is backed by the People's Liberation Army, the government asserts the program is entirely peaceful: "China always adheres to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes weaponization or any arms race in outer space."

Forget the U.S. data crunch. NASA admits their is an impending data crunch in space with the amount of data being processed by various satellites, shuttles and space stations the data traffic will become to much to handle. Enter Ouliang Chang, USC graduate student, who has developed a plan to solve this crisis by placing a supercomputer on the Moon to alleviate the coming crunch. The plan is likely to be vastly expensive and would be the most expensive supercomputer ever built. He is not alone, however, many scientists are advocating for an increased scientific presence on the satellite. NASA scientists are advocating placing Telescopes on the Moon. They say the absence of an atmosphere on the moon would allow astronomers to peer deeper into space than currently can be allowed. The base would even have advantage over satellites viewing into space as it would be much easier to repair and upgrade a telescope in a fixed location.

If their is money to be made someone somewhere is likely looking to profit. The Moon is no exception. Helium-3, also called tralphium, is widely sought for use as fuel in fusion generators. Helium-3 is extremely rare on Earth, but guess where it can be found readily? If you guessed the moon, bingo. Helium-3 is said to be three times less corrosive than hydrogen which would enable to fusion generators to run off the fuel three times longer. The possibilities this holds for making fusion energy a viable energy alternative could be huge. The results for those to capitalize off this would also be huge. The burgeoning private space industry could also be positively affected with increased travel to the moon. Already companies like Space X contract space flights to the ISS for the US government but as commercial development on the moon expands it grows the potential for their profit as well. Even James Cameron, Avatar Movie Director, seems ready to jump in, his project Planetary Resources has its sites on mining asteroids and possibly even the moon.

All this is, granted, years away but it seems the ideas are beginning to come together to start a major push for human interests on the moon. It was commercial and government interests that launched European exploration into the new world it will likely be a partnership between science, government and business that will launch our human civilization into the 21st century and begin our human transpermitaztion into space. 
The Next Space Race

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