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Blueshift ponders… what’s next in space exploration?

This past weekend, I attended an unconference called SpaceUP DC, which drew together space enthusiasts from near and far to talk about the future of space exploration and advocacy. It’s an “unconference” because it’s not like a regular professional conference – it’s much more free-form, and attendees determine the structure, schedule, and sessions on the spot! It was invigorating to be collaborating and networking with a diverse crowd who all love space!

Topics discussed at SpaceUP DC covered a wide variety of topics (you can see the final session schedule on the wiki), but there was a lot of emphasis on where we should go next: in manned and unmanned exploration, in public and private exploration, and in outreach and advocacy. There was a lot of discussion about the future. So we wanted to ask you:

Blueshift Ponders: What big things do you hope to see next in space exploration?

The solar system from Voyager
Photo taken by Voyager 1, one of only four human-made objects to leave our solar system.

We’re entering a pretty interesting time in space. We’ve got lots of satellites up there, observing everything from our own home planet to the farthest reaches of space. Privatized exploration, both manned and unmanned, seems within reach. Though the Space Shuttle program is coming to an end, NASA and other agencies are looking at the next steps. And a number of exciting satellites (like the James Webb Space Telescope) are underway and will be launched in the next handful of years.

So we’re wondering – what’s got you excited about the future of space exploration? Where do you hope we’ll be in 10 years? 20 years? 50 years?

Hubble Ultra Deep Field
The youngest galaxies we’ve seen – so far…

Sara’s Take: I’m really excited by how fast technology is moving – both here at NASA and in the private space community. I watched a presentation at SpaceUP DC about picosatellites, which are truly inspiring. People can do real research with a tiny payload that’s affordable to build and launch! Add this to other cost-effective means of gathering data, like scientific balloons and sub-orbital spaceflight, and we’ve got so much potential for access and discoveries! Meanwhile, we’re sending up some astoundingly advanced satellites. The combination should put us in a position to study things faster and better than ever.

Personally, I hope that these advances reveal some of the big cosmic conundrums – help us shed more light on mysterious things like black holes, gravity waves, and dark energy. I’d love for those things to be far less mysterious in my lifetime! I also hope that the availability of cheaper exploration options allows more people to be involved. It would be amazing if just about anyone who wants to launch a satellite could afford it, and that looks promising with the tiny satellites that I mentioned. High school students could launch satellites as a class project!

And I’m also interested in space tourism… it’s a dream of mine to experience zero gravity. Earlier this year, I watched a great documentary called Space Tourists, and it only made me want to go more! I can’t afford to go into orbit at the current prices, but I’m also interested in seeing that become an accessible opportunity for science and tourism.

And what do you think, Maggie?

Maggie’s Take: What would I like to see? I’m torn, frankly. I know a lot of people who feel pretty strongly that money is better spent on unmanned exploration – and I can’t disagree totally. However, it’s wanting to be an astronaut, and wanting humans to explore further away from our home planet that has gotten me here to NASA. Maybe I read too much science fiction as a kid, and the realities of human exploration are vastly more complicated and hard than those fiction writers could have dreamed. But it seems like at some point we have to become capable of moving beyond Earth orbit. We may have done that once, but Apollo was over 40 years ago.

The other side of this is that, if we’re just not capable of going to the Moon or beyond right now – how much money do we want to pour into it? Let’s not forget the tremendous science being done by unmanned satellites – from the beloved Hubble to the Mars rovers to Cassini. One of the things I’m excited for is the New Horizons mission, which will arrive at Pluto in 2015. Do you know that Pluto is so far away, we still don’t have very good images of it? If we can explore faster with unmanned probes we can build now – and reap the rewards sooner – that may be the best thing to do. Certainly there are things so far away (even further than Pluto!) that we’ll never be able to send people there. That’s where missions like the James Webb Space Telescope come in – it will be able to see things so far away, that the light from these objects has been traveling towards us since several hundred thousand years after the Big Bang. That’s right – we’ll be able to see baby galaxies that were formed 13.5 billion years ago. That’s certainly going where no man (or woman) has gone before!

(I still want my flying car!)

Here’s your chance to voice your own opinions – what are your thoughts on the next steps in space exploration? What do you hope we’ll do next?

Comment and let us know what you think!   Comments are moderated and we ask that you be respectful. No profanity please!  Any comments with non-NASA links may be edited or removed.

Disclaimer:  All opinions in this blog entry are that of specific individuals and do not represent those of NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center, or Blueshift.


  • Sheryl says:

    I’m not a scientist, but I love NASA. I want it all! When I think about all of the work done by NASA and their collaborators, I am in awe. I think of SDO, GOES, THEMIS, LRO, Voyager 1 & 2, Hubble, etc. and I want all of that to continue.

    I also think that human space flight must continue from the United States (with perhaps a short interim period between vehicles). Human space flight is inspirational to young people in ways that satellites and telescopes may not be.

    An inspired child might dream of flying in space, visiting a distant world, so they aspire to become an astronaut. On the way to fulfilling that dream, they become an engineer, or a doctor, or a science teacher.

    The engineer might end up developing the next best satellite. The doctor might discover through NASA research how to cure osteoporosis. The science teacher might inspire the next generation to observe the stars overhead and dream big.

    There must be a role for American humans in space. And in the interim, between vehicles, I’ll keep my eye on Hubble, Cassini, the Voyagers and SDO. :-)

  • TS says:

    This is going to be quite off-the-cuff (and hopefully not too cynical-sounding), but over the next 10 years I’d like to see a serious manifestation of political will for a robust space program. I want to see the mass of us realize that our major economic, cultural, and educational advantages in the world are in scientific, engineering, and technological innovations, and that a strong space initiative is the best way to cultivate this. The space program is one of the greatest things this nation has ever contributed to human civilization, and it’s far past time for us to fully acknowledge and embrace that. I want to see us stop pushing these things to the back-burner and realize that, if we truly believe ourselves to be a great nation, that we have to agree to bear the costs and risks of achieve great things. The continued exploration of space is arguably the greatest of these things, as it holds the promise of unlimited discovery and invention. At this time, we are the only nation that fully has the capability and institutional knowledge to continue pushing this boundary, and my fear is that if we don’t capitalize on it now then we’ll lose this ability and opportunity for the foreseeable future. Allowing such to happen would not only be disgraceful on a national level, but would also be failing the rest of the world as an agent for bettering and advancing the human condition. And I believe that future generations would judge us harshly for allowing that to happen.

    Frankly, I want to see us do everything as well. It’s not far-fetched to say that we have every right, as intelligent and responsible citizens, to demand it and to expect it. I want to see robotic AND manned exploration of space. I know that there is always a debate of robotic vs. manned exploration, but the truth is we need manned exploration if you’re ever going to have a fully realized space program. People need people to relate to, they need heroes. This fact was brought up several times at the SpaceUP DC event, but it always bears repeating. As the previous poster said, children may dream of becoming an astronaut, and the pursuit of this dream could lead them to other scientific or technical endeavors. We need these kinds of icons, as, unfortunately, pure scientific or technical marvels don’t appeal to everyone. Kids grow up wanting to be athletes or actors because they see these people in the public eye and think “That could me me!.” So they pursue that aim and everything it requires. This is why we need manned spaceflight; to provide that same kind of inspiration and ambition, and to get kids to tackle the intellectual and scientific pursuits it requires. One of the biggest motivators for humanity is to be able to look at someone and think “That could be ME.”

    The saying goes that if there are no bucks, then there’s no Buck Rogers, but it’s just as true to say that Buck Rogers is the one who generates the most bucks, because that’s what most people relate to.

    So I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’d like to see a real national interest in space exploration, and a strong commitment to both robotic AND manned spaceflight. I apologize for the rather rambling nature of this post and its very, very raw state, but that tends to happen why you’re basically writing steam-of-consciousness style. Oops.

  • TS says:

    Whoops, yeah this bit “as intelligent and responsible citizens” should say something more along the lines of “with the resources and ability at our disposal” Not sure what else I was thinking of there…

  • Sheryl says:

    Wow. Well said, TS.

  • TS says:

    Haha, I thought it a bit raw and rambling (which will happens when you don’t get enough sleep!), but many thanks! :)

  • TS says:

    And I second your last suggestion: Where is my flying car?!

  • Jordaan says:

    I want manned space flight, I really do. I think, however, we should stay grounded at this time until we can fully develop a new type of space craft which is propelled by a new form of energy production. Whatever that technology is–these zeropoint antigravity flux field super-luminous things–or whatever. What are the facts about recovered extra-terrestrial space craft? Are all of these people claiming this to be true, quacks? They all seem very convinced that we are and have been being visited by intelligent beings from distant solar systems for some time now (thousands of years). Is it true that we have already recovered downed or crashed craft? If so wouldn’t that provide the technological insight for long-distance manned space flight? Do these technologies and programs already exist are are being carried out without public knowledge or is all of that consipracy theory pipe dreams? If it is true, I think most of us are about ready to handle that information, and I stress most of us, whoever that may be. The release of such information may very well cause the public chaos and panic that is expected upon the event of doing so. So, I think we must still be quite cautious, though I think that while some panic and chaos may ensue, I am quite certain it will be short-lived, especially if we can assure the mass public that it is not threatening or somthing to be afraid of, but to embrace. I think that many people may still be to engulfed in their secularistic and narrowminded thinking, excessively consumed with things like sports and entertainment, to handle the shock of suddenly being told that hey we are not alone, but everybody gets a wake up call eventually, so why not make it now? From my opinion as an amateur astronomer and self-proclaimed space buff and science and technology enthusiast, I think we are on the verge of needing this information to be outthere for all mankind to see. I don’t think it will be as big a deal as we are thinking it will be. It is going to be alot different than what we saw during the Wells radiobroadcast “war of the worlds” when everyone paniced at the thought of alien invasion. If we assure the public that they are friendlies and here to help I think that they will be greatly welcomed, by most, never all, as we always see.

    But that is all speculation.

    If none of that is true, then it is certain that we have quite sometime of tremendous more advancement in technology and research to fully achieve the dreams of the space program. I know the ultimate goal is reaching distant solar systems with habitable Earth-like planets and if we are required to obtain that tech through natural human advancement, then it might be sometime before that occurs, (that is if the tech doesn’t already exist from these ETV’s). Either way I am excited about the future of the space program, infact I am really looking forward to a manned mission to Mars, I would love to be on that flight. I am in school now, studying science and hope to oneday travel into space myself at whatever level for whatever purpose, and especially to explore a distant world. Anyway that’s only some of my two cents. Any rebuttal’s, arguements, questions, disagreements, agreements, etc. fully welcome. I love discussing space and science. God Bless.

  • jaycifer says:

    well i think personally ..that we should make this infra red power source..available to all of us soon as possible! and begin to look after this blue/green planet we have first…before we ruin any body elses planet too !

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