Space has intrigued mankind forever, and in the 20th century the USA and the USSR became caught up in a race to see who could conquer it first. On October 4, 1957, the USSR launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, and by April 12, 1961 the Russian Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. The space race then peaked on July 20, 1969, with the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, and by 1972 a total of 12 men had walked upon its surface.
Our desire to understand the universe and discover the unknown has been reason enough to continue to develop advanced spacecraft and vessels that can go further and further into space, but is there a chance that space could have opportunities beyond fulfilling the desire to “go where no one has gone before?”
Experts think so. There is a growing belief that space could hold economic opportunities in a number of different ways, and it’s nothing new. In the 1990s, NASA actively recruited industries that might profit from space travel to play a role in the development of space exploration vehicles and technologies. People have speculated that everything from medical research to manufacturing might benefit from the zero gravity environment that space provides.
Unfortunately, the exorbitant price of getting anything into space has made it impractical to really explore any of these potential benefits. However, that doesn’t mean that we have stopped exploring the industrial possibilities of space. On the International Space Station (ISS), for example, tests have been conducted to determine how molten metal flows in zero gravity environments, and these experiments could have applications for a future manufacturing space industry.
In the meantime, the European Space Agency (ESA) is hoping to make the research currently being undertaken on the International Space Station as relevant as possible to industrialists. Recently, the agency conducted a poll of top companies across a broad range of industries, asking for their input on what types of scientific studies could be most beneficial for their specific lines of business. The agency hopes to use their answers to help shape ESA future research programs, and provide data that could one day lead to space becoming a center for economic activity.
The European Space Agency is also planning to search for traces of life on Mars, and in the near future has ambitions of setting up a remote colony, or Deep Space Habitat (DSH), on the Moon where even more testing could be conducted, and the impact of long-duration missions on astronauts can be assessed.
Furthermore, asteroids might one day be mined for everything from raw materials for construction to fuels for space exploration, and our moon could provide a test area for these types of mining operations. It’s also possible that one day we may develop a need for a material that could only be made in space, such as a type of foam or glass that is only possible to produce at zero gravity.
In conclusion, while we may be a long way from people getting into a space rocket before heading off to work, studies currently being done in outer space could end up furthering economic expansion, and the development of new technologies here on Earth sooner than we think.