“Humanity’s aim is to explore the Solar System for the sake of our survival,” according to Tim Peake, a British astronaut. Major Peake is due to go into space next year, for a six month stint aboard the International Space Station (ISS). He gave an interview this week whilst preparing for his mission and the long journey (by Soyuz rocket) from Kazakhstan to the ISS.
Peake’s expedition to the ISS is an example of Britain’s increasing involvement in space exploration. The most recent technological additions to the ISS, earlier this week, were two British-built Earth-observation cameras. Both of these ventures exemplify efforts on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA) to encourage people to take an interest in space. “We are going to get the public involved in naming the mission, designing the (badge) for the mission and doing things like designing a meal for an astronaut for a day that will get cooked and sent up for me to eat,” said Peake, regarding his own mission. And with the British cameras operational, web users will potentially be able to view Major Peake’s arrival at the space station next year.
Whilst some people may debate the necessity of investment in space exploration, Major Peake certainly believes it is a worthwhile endeavour. “It’s easy to dismiss this stuff about ‘Moon, Mars and Beyond’ as NASA propaganda. [However] they are taking it seriously and I think it really will happen.” Depending on technological advances, the human race may be able to survive on Earth for at least a few hundred million years. After this, the expansion of our Sun will eventually make the Earth uninhabitable. In this respect, Peake is absolutely correct about space travel being the future saviour of humanity.
Further to the possibility for new scientific discoveries, the ISS is a useful tool for realising human capacity to work together for the better. If man is eventually going to explore other planets and solar systems, the political cohesion that can be seen in the cooperative effort to construct and maintain the ISS will be a great attribute if we ever encounter an extra-terrestrial race.
In addition to these extremely long term possibilities, journeying into the unknown could result in any number of more immediate revelations for science and humanity. According to Peake, “some of the things we are doing on the space station are absolutely remarkable. We are finding things about our bodies that we genuinely had no ideas about before.” Sending astronauts to the ISS for long periods of time has allowed scientists to gain a greater understanding of the effects that cosmic radiation and low gravity have on the human body. Without the protection of the Earth’s atmosphere to shield us from radiation, and without it’s gravity to ensure we utilise all of our muscles, the duration of any one trip to space is limited.
Such information will be vital for any potential interplanetary travel that humans may eventually undertake. Peake, and other astronauts, are optimistic about plans for such trips. “Whether it’s an asteroid mission or a Moon mission, the ultimate aim is the future exploration of the Solar System and to get to Mars on a manned mission.”
By engaging the public in Peake’s mission, and allowing people to see into the world of an astronaut, the ESA will undoubtedly have raised the profile of future space missions. They may also have inspired the next generation of astronauts, some of whom may be the first humans to reach another planet.
Does the ISS hold the solutions to long distance space travel and how might such developments change the way we think about ourselves as a race?