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The Final Frontier

Essay by   •  May 13, 2016  •  Research Paper  •  1,281 Words (6 Pages)  •  903 Views

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The Final Frontier

Overpopulation, scarcity of resources, environmental strain, the constant possibility of extinction due to an unforeseeable catastrophe, and human curiosity are just a few reasons that exploring the cosmos is a natural continuation of our expansion. However working toward the exploration of the heavens is seldom viewed as practical to the average person. This aversion of the possibility that we may someday colonize our solar system, the Milky Way Galaxy, or even the rest of the Universe is largely due the seemingly impractical amount of time, distance, resources, and money (on average, $380 million per launch (Chaikin)) involved in space missions. Making space travel feasible would require scientists to develop more technology to make being an astronaut possible for average people.

Although the privatization of NASA marked the end of the U.S. government’s support for the space program, some of its constituent scientists and programs have since continued to work toward technologies that may someday make space travel commercially available ("10 Technology Innovations Needed for Deep Space Exploration").

One of the major issues of commercialized space travel is the fact that the formidable forces of space and the complexity of piloting a space craft currently restricts such missions to those who excel in physical endurance and are extremely mentally adept. Without the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, astronauts are constantly bombarded by harmful radiation consisting of high-speed positively and negatively charged particles, called protons and electrons, respectively. This constant bombardment leads to numerous health problems, including cancer development. Since similar charges repel each other, a powerful electrical field (much like the force fields portrayed in Star Wars) could shield astronauts from these highly energetic particles. A method of producing this electrical field which was developed by NASA in the mid-2000’s consists of a thin sphere made of a durable material that is covered with an extremely thin layer of gold, which is an excellent conductor of electricity. This sphere can either be positively charged to repel protons or negatively charged to repel electrons. Since astronauts require oxygen, drinkable water, and food to survive and these supplies cannot be replenished away from Earth, space missions are limited by the duration of time that the amount of supplies on board can sustain the ship’s crew. To extend the longevity of the oxygen and water supply, NASA scientists are improving the efficiency of systems that recycle these resources. When a person breathes, they inhale oxygen (O2) and exhale carbon dioxide (CO2). In order to recycle used oxygen, carbon dioxide has to be split into carbon and oxygen, then the oxygen has to be extracted. NASA scientists hope to be able to improve the efficiency of this process to extract 100% of used oxygen by the year 2019. A method of recycling water that is being used for the International Space Station uses a special distillation unit that rotates “waste” which causes centripetal force to extract clean water. Since propelling a ship to the velocity required to escape the gravitational pull of Earth requires a tremendous amount of force, the ship’s weight is extremely limited. As a result, the food used for missions- which is dehydrated to make it lighter- needs to be carefully calculated and rationed, which limits the possible length of missions. To increase the amount of food available, scientists have tried to develop ways of growing food in a space ship. Limited amounts of space on board prohibit the traditional method of cultivating soil for the plants to grow. A more advanced method of growing plants, known as hydroponics, uses water as a medium for the plants to take root. Different nutrients required by the plant are added to the water at different times through a series of tubes. Although this method would meet the space requirements to be used on a space ship, the amount of water used and the weight of the equipment and chemicals required for this process would be too cumbersome for practical use. In a method being developed by NASA called aeroponics, crops would be grown from special seeds which are suspended in the air by plastic frames. This method would meet the weight and space requirements, and would actually produce more nutritious crops

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