Space, the final frontier


Last night the Cassini orbiter, developed and launched by NASA, the European Space Agency, and Italian Space Agency 20 years ago, finished her mission by burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere, after travelling almost 8 billion kilometres and circling Saturn and its moons for the past 13 years. She brought us untold wealths of information about our solar system’s second largest gas-giant, not least being the discovery of several previously unseen moons, before sending back one last transmission to a standing ovation of NASA’s best and brightest as it plummeted into Saturn’s atmosphere, burning up within a minute.

20 years earlier, the Voyager space probes were launched on their own missions to explore our solar system, and they are still talking to us 40 years later from the very edge of our corner of space. No one expected them to go so far nor remain in contact for so long, and who knows where or when their journey will end.

Currently, Curiosity is just one of several rovers roaming the surface and probing the - well - top few inches of an alien planet, digging for both signs and support of life on Mars. And with each new rover, we learn more about our neighbour, and more about the technology needed both to survey and to survive the harsh climate of the red planet.

Despite the origins of the Space Race of the 60’s, up above our heads as we speak, humans are circling the planet aboard our own creation, a joint effort between nations to see our species permanently stationed in space.

For decades humans have dreamt of living in space, and on alien worlds. Science Fiction may not be the most popular genre, yet it is one of the most imaginative, and itself has then inspired us to strive to push the boundaries of own world and develop the technologies required to make those dreams come true. Eyes are now more than ever on Mars, with plans to leave our footprint on a 3rd astral body.

Whilst much of those dreams have involved aliens, both benevolent and otherwise, the reality likely will be a lonely journey amongst the stars, due simply to the scale of space and time involved. Whilst I’ve no doubts that alien life has existed in the past, does exist right now, or will exist in the future, we’ll likely never encounter it due to the passage of time, and size of space.

A fan myself the sci-fi genre, and long-time dreamer, I only wish I could be alive to see the day that humankind truly steps out of the Earth’s shadow, overcome the limits that bind us to our current celestial position, and learn not only to explore this Universe, but to work together in doing so.


Dream on, hobo, its all we have. I, too, was born years too soon. So, instead, I read the stories and watch the movies and shows. If you havent read Ben Bova’s Grand Tour series you should. Its wonderful. I think I must be due to re-read it soon.

:slight_smile: Dreamer. That’s me.

I love the idea that sci-fi has and will help to develop our voyage into space.

Whilst Einstein’s theories predict the idea of wormholes, sci-fi has brought them to life, and perhaps one day technology will allow us to take advantage of them. Certainly without faster-than-light travel, journeys through space will be long tedious affairs!

I’m sure it was by no means the first, but in 1966 Doctor Who did a story based on the idea of a “generational Ark” of people moving across the galaxy to a new home. I can’t say that idea appeals! Spending your life on a spaceship, knowing you and your children’s children’s children will live and die aboard the ship without reaching the conclusion of the mission…

I’ll have a look at those novels, @kyte… Looks interesting!

Also read authors like Greg Bear, Stephen Baxter (does a lot of alternative history and what-if, Flood and Ark are excellent), Greg Egan, Clifford D. Simak, Arthur C. Clarke (of course you probably already do/have) and so many more. There arent very many writers of hard scifi anymore, seems to me the fantasy genre has moved in and taken over, and whilst those can be entertaining and interesting, they arent scifi, to my way of thinking. Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Mars” series is very interesting… especially in view of the planned one way expeditions. Heaps more I can’t think of right now.

I don’t think we will get beyond our own system for centuries, and by then, we may well have destroyed ourselves in some ridiculous conflagration. Which is likely where all the other civilisations are: not advanced enough to be noticed or to notice us, or already past the point of no return. The vast distances between suns is going to defeat us, and lets not even think about intergalactic travel… not going to happen. But, its nice to dream and read about it all.

Is there life out there? Of course there is. There has to be. But life like ours, like us? Nope, I think not.

So, the International Space Station was originally intended to reach its expiry date in 2015 (!). Thankfully Boeing (as the main contractor) has been able to extend the lifespan of various components of the station, keeping the station viable until at least 2024.

One of the major issues is the stations solar panels, which are affected by solar radiation, causing their glass coverings to darken, and reduce efficiency. There are plans however to simply install new panels overtop of the old if need-be. Physical strains from docking to other vessels also take their toll, though so far Boeing is happy that the hull is not at any risk of breaching and exposing the occupants to the harsh environment outside.

The ISS has been invaluable in teaching the world’s space agencies skills in supporting life in the vacuum of space, with critical functions such as scrubbing the air and recycling water. Skills that are vital toward plans to send life beyond our planet’s orbit - to the moon, and Mars.

Crunch time is looming however, as the ISS costs (NASA) $3.5b per year to maintain - costs that some people feel would now be better spent in other areas of space exploration. If the decision is made to pull out of the ISS, it will be set on course for a fiery re-entry and splashdown into the Pacific.

Whilst this is likely not going to happen in the immediate future, one can’t help but hope that given the growing interest from the private sector in space, perhaps the ISS may one day be purchased and begin a new life, rather than becoming a shooting star.,411445

(And doesn’t that just make my head spin with ideas for a tv series…)

In 1972 NASA began its Space Transportation System (STS) - better known as the Space Shuttle - with active space missions running from 1981 to 2011. Whilst 2 shuttles were lost, the remaining vehicles are a thing of immense pride in the museums in which they now reside.

Hoping not to be outdone, the Soviet Space Program (Roscosmos) began its own shuttle program 2 years later. They struggled however to get their version into space, even after they “borrowed” NASA’s software. Whilst 3 “Buran” were built, only 1 ever reached space, and did so unmanned. The program was scrapped, and after a hanger collapse destroyed the 1 successful shuttle, the 2 remaining shuttles have sat rotting in a hanger in Kazakhstan since the early 90’s.

Maybe if we pass the hat around we could convince the Russians to sell them to us… spit n polish… Bet we’d make a few quid! :slight_smile:

Elon Musk will get people to Mars long before NASA ever could. He has the will, and the resources.

Out of interest, do watch the docudrama on SBSon Demand called “Mars”. 2 episodes of about 1.5 hours each, they discuss the issues (2016) alongside a Mars Mission in 2033. Its fairly well done, I thought.

Are you me?

My dream has always been to colonising another planet and retiring there. Getting a bit too old to see that one come true now…

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Possibly. I always hoped to get off planet but that dream died along with age and deteriorating health. Now, I just hope I will live long enough to see others get to Mars. I doubt that I will, so I will just keep reading and watching

@kyte Just watched the first episode of “Mars” - pretty good :slight_smile: Thanks! Also safe to show my 10yo - I think he’ll appreciated it.

I don’t know who I’d put my money on - NASA or Elon… But certainly there is a “feel” that Mars really is within our reach now. Of course, the ability to land will be pretty darn important aside from the obvious things like air, water, food and power…

Don’t forget Boeing mate. They’ve claimed they will be first. Musk’s response? “Bring it on!”

My money’s on Elon.

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@soulman Ah, didn’t know Boeing was laying down the gauntlet! :slight_smile: Part of NASA’s alliance though. But that’s still a lot of history behind them.

They just need to send a few remote controlled bulldozers ahead… flatten out some ground for a runway…

The “Mars” idea (suggested viewing from @kyte) that they should land, and then live in side the spaceship certainly has benefits, but it seems incredibly risky to do this whole reverse-take off landing technique… A LOT of things to go wrong… And it’d be a hell of an end to the 9 month trip.

Episode 3 of “Mars” is up for those interested. 3 more eps to come.

For those who liked Star Trek, the original series:

11 eps, very well done. The eps can be downloaded as DVD or Bluray as well. All free.

Funny thing, I know Vic (or at least, knew him about ten years back). I was on the convention team that invited him to his first convention in the States.

He’s a shockingly good Kirk.

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Does it even need a comment?

Ok - one. I love the “Don’t Panic!” on the dash!

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I have that image as the startup screen on my dive computer; so when I turn it on, before I jump in the water, the first thing I see is “DONT PANIC”

They should have used a battery to give the wheels a little spin… wouldn’t need much to keep them going…

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