“Ex astris scientia”-scientific knowledge comes from the stars. Humankind has always been fascinated by the mysteries of the Universe. Our curious nature led us to unravel some of the mysteries, but more importantly, helped us realize how insignificant we are in the vast Universe, and how little we know about it. Yet, we were not intimidated by its vastness; we kept delving deeper into its secrets. The ancient man’s curiosity which made him wonder what the shiny things in the night sky possibly could be still burns in our minds, and we keep continuing our search for answers to all of nature’s secrets.
We have always been wanderers and adventurists. Our inherent curiosity and astonishing dare have led us many places before. We were nomads, and in a way, we still are, for we are constantly in search of a better place to move to. Our nature has been explicitly given by Herman Melville in his book, Moby Dick, “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to search the forbidden seas...”
Once man had done exploring most of his own planet, he was naturally tempted to look beyond. He sent his creations to space, but that could not satisfy him for long, he had to go. April 12, 1961 was indeed a proud day for the earthlings, when the first ever human space flight was accomplished by the cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin. Many followed. Despite the evolving cutting-edge technology that is being used for each space flight, the missions are not flawless; there is always space for improvement. This is exactly what we have to consider when we think of future human space flights.
One significant factor is the cost effectiveness of the missions. Space missions are not cheap; they were never. But they could be. This is where technology should step in. If we can evolve the technology to send our people beyond the planet, we sure can devise of a new, or rather, a modified way of space exploration such that the missions are less expensive, but provides the output of the same standard, if not better. We are constrained, if at all, only by our imagination. Also, this new version should be more eco-friendly. Although we are going to explore other worlds, we have to protect this one, or at the least, not harm it!
Another main factor we have to consider is the extent to which astronauts can adapt to strange environments. As yet, we do not completely know what exact changes human body undergoes in space or how it is affected after the completion of the mission. We need more extensive studies on conditions in space with the help of which, we may modify the existing countermeasures or create new ones. One suggestion is to learn all that we possibly could about the destination prior to the human flight, with the help of robots or other technology. Then we can evolve appropriate measures, like training the astronauts using simulations created on the basis of the studies, and designing effective vehicles and equipments.
The most important thing the future missions should ensure is that space is not a frontier to wage wars. Future space flights are possible only if we are willing to co-operate. Space exploration should not have any political or national boundaries. It should be undertaken only for the pure goal of understanding the way the Universe works and applying the knowledge, if possible, to make life on Earth better. Space missions should not be executed to show-off that a particular country is better off than the rest. Scientists and engineers must most definitely oppose any plan of undertaking space missions for political/national reasons. The success of a space flight is solely determined by the passion of the scientists, the engineers, the astronauts and all the rest who are associated with it; the passion to learn more, the urge to explore more. So, international co-operation is inevitable in future human space flights.
Why do we undertake space missions at all? The reasons include mainly gathering scientific information, finding alternative energy resources(as we are running out of them here) and the most amusing possibility of finding intelligent life, or at least life, somewhere far beyond. So, space flight is justified. But we, the most intelligent beings till date on the planet, have created robots which can undertake these missions in a mostly perfect manner. Also, compared to human space flights, “robotic space flight” is much cheaper and effective, as robots need not be trained as hard, they do not complain, they can be sent to risky environments and no human life is at stake. So why waste money, time and energy into sending a few humans to space?
Yes, why is human space flight significant? If exploring can be done by human-made objects effectively, and human beings can experience exotic space frontiers „virtually‟, why bother? Carl Sagan said in his book „Pale Blue Dot‟, “Planetary exploration satisfies our inclination for great enterprises and wanderings and quests that has been with us since our days as hunters and gatherers on the East African savannahs a million years ago.” It is the same curiosity, daring and the thirst to explore more than can possibly answer the question truthfully. Captain James Cook wrote, “I....had the ambition not only to go farther than anyone had done before, but as far as it was possible for man to go.”Yes, in the end, we have to satisfy ourselves.
As a conclusion, the scope and the excitement for future human space flights are vast, and so is their significance high. The Universe has many secrets waiting to be unraveled, and we have the sole key that could be possibly used to do that—science. It is time we joined hands to take our exploration of the Universe further. The sky is not the limit, it is just the beginning of our journey, to infinity and beyond…