3 Reasons we need to invest or are investing in space

Everyone will have their own answers behind why they encourage investments in space. Space gives us a platform for exploration. We all are bounded within Earth. We all are familiar with almost every aspect of Earth, but we are not familiar with the universe at its best. When humans first watched the night sky, they got encouraged by its nature. They didn’t have any ideas of it. They didn’t know what were those shiny dots, the aggressive ball of fire & the shining ball of rock. Thus, they gradually got interest in those objects. People started watching them, tracking their positions, theorizing facts related to them. Night sky & the objects in it were a part of people’s lives. In fact, many of our religious beliefs, cultures & traditions are affected by sun, moon, planets & stars. Our calendars are also based on these things. Though, those early men were not actually familiar with those objects, they always kept interests on them. Over the period of time, people’s perspective changed dramatically. People started to know in much detail about the universe. Heliocentric system by Nicolaus Copernicus changed people’s perception about the universe. Though this idea faced many problems to get popularized among people, at last, it was accepted. Galileo Galilei was among those who supported the heliocentric system & who had changed our views of scientific methods. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honor), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments. Like that the things went on & until the 20th century, when the face of our view towards the universe changed completely. On October 3, 1942, V2 rocket was launched by German scientists & marked the physical exploration of space. It was the first man-made object to be launched. After that, living organisms were started to be sent. The first living being to be sent to space was fruit fly. After that first animal Laika – the dog – was put into orbit. The launch of first spacecraft to space was marked by Sputnik 1. Then, Vostok 1 became the first successful human spaceflight by Russia carrying Yuri Gagarin to space on April 12, 1961. Since then, various instruments were sent & humans were put in orbit. Today, we’re among those advanced species, who send instruments & humans to space & gain knowledge.

Thus, the first & foremost reason behind investing in space, as described, is our curiosity – the thirst for knowledge. Since, the exploration by early people, we’ve been working towards exploring the space. We want to know & thus, we explore. Though our curiosity is the primary reason behind our investments in space, there’re other reasons too we invest in space exploration.

Space is actually not just for seeking knowledge; it is something which we must explore for our survival, whether we’re interested or not interested. The point which I’m going to make will be in reference to 3 of my previous posts – 2012: Another ordinary year or last year in human history, Is Diwali transforming from the festival of light & joy to the festival of pollution & destruction & Space: Our next home Part I, Part II. Remember these posts. In all these 3 posts, my only objective was to discuss the threats around & within our Earth & why should we establish settlement in space. We’ve 2 kinds of major threats: Earth-borne, i.e. Global Warming & Pollution; & Space-borne, i.e. Collision with near earth objects (NEO) or effects from solar storm. These two are the major problems we’re facing & which we can’t avoid & because of which we’ve to leave Earth.

First, we’ll discuss Global Warming. For a detailed description of what effects it causes, read – Is Diwali transforming from the festival of light & joy to the festival of pollution & destruction. Global Warming is termed for the raise in average temperature of Earth. Due to large deposition of carbon dioxide & other greenhouse gases in Earth, they’ve been trapping the incoming heat radiation from sun. This phenomenon is termed as greenhouse effect. Greenhouse effect has negative effect on any planet if it exceeds the natural limit. Carbon dioxide is undoubtedly very important for Earth as it increases the temperature of Earth which in turn sustains life. But the large amount of the gas in the Earth increases its temperature rapidly & creates difficulties for the living beings. Primarily, increased heat (Global Warming) melts glaciers which increase sea levels. It also posses threats to wildlife. The changing climate pattern is due to the increased temperature. It is now bit harder to predict the weather of a place of next 24 hours or so as it keeps changing unexpectedly. As the temperature remains high throughout the year, the larvae of mosquitoes also keep alive & spread deadly diseases. The increasing heat directly affects our life as it creates difficulties for people to live in various warm areas. As a result, survival of life forms is threatened. It’ll create many social & economical problems in our future. The coming decades will be deadliest, creating many more problems, as a result of Global Warming.

Secondly, we’ll discuss pollution. Pollution is the undesirable changes in the natural composition of components of environment. There’re many forms of pollution including: Air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, light pollution, soil contamination, radioactive contamination, thermal pollution, visual pollution, littering. These are the forms of pollution which are caused due to both natural & man-made factors, though man-made factors are more significant. Here, we’ll briefly discuss 2 main forms of pollution which we’re mostly familiar with & which have more effects on environment: air pollution & water pollution. Global warming is a result of air pollution. Air pollution is caused by various kinds of gases, dust particles, smog; released to atmosphere. These include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, chlorofluorocarbons. The results are: greenhouse effect (causing global warming), acid rain, air-borne diseases. Water pollution is caused by chemicals, sewage, industrial wastes. This causes water-borne diseases, eutrophication, littering.

Thirdly, we’ll discuss collision with near earth objects (NEO). NEO includes asteroids, meteors, comets. In 2012: Another ordinary year or last year in human history, I had discussed how these near earth objects will pose threats on our lives. An asteroid was enough to sweep out every dreadful dinosaur from earth some 65 millions years ago. Though NEO was not possessing threats after the collision that swept out dinosaurs, there’s absolutely no certainty that NEO will not possess threat in coming decades. Collisions with NEO are one of the reasons we’ll have to leave earth, if possible. NASA has been constantly monitoring the NEO. Sometimes, asteroids pass nearby Earth. Though they don’t possess any threats to us, what will happen if they pass by some kilometers more? These things add to our worries. May be by mid-century or so, we’ll have threats from asteroids. Asteroids, if collide with Earth, will destroy earth in a matter of minutes or may be hours. So, we’ll have to be prepared to protect ourselves from NEO.

Lastly, we’ll discuss effects from solar storms. Though, there’s a very little possibility of threats from solar storm, they can cause potential destruction to earth & if not to life forms, then to electronics. Every 11 years, solar storm occurs due to magnetic activity in sun. But there’s nothing to worry about. But, if in future, very violent & powerful collision occurs, the particles from storm may cause significant damages to electronics & if the earth’s magnetic field deplete, will cause some forms of damage to earth & its components.

These are the threats on earth. Just in few words, we’ll discuss what we’re doing & can do to prevent or control these threats.

To fight global warming, the only thing we can do now is to control the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. This can be done by several ways. We can use cleaner fuels like CNG, power alcohol, unleaded petrol. We can use motor vehicles judiciously & use bicycles as much as possible. We can also travel in public transport where possible. We can spread public awareness so that the effect of global warming can be understood by masses. We shouldn’t use firecrackers. We can use alternative sources of energy like solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy, nuclear fuels (through nuclear fusion reaction; will be possible in near future), geothermal energy etc. For now, we can do this much as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is fairly high. We can’t dispose the deposited carbon dioxide. The only thing we can do is to control its emission.

The controlling of pollution is almost same as that of controlling global warming as global warming is the result of air pollution. We can control air pollution through processes we can control global warming. Water pollution can be controlled by treating the sewage so that it doesn’t do any harm to water bodies. We should stop those industries whose waste flow to rivers. We can prevent those who wash clothes, bath near water bodies. We can manufacture bio-degradable detergents. We can practice organic farming. Noise pollution can be controlled by making strict laws so that the sound can’t exceed a particular level. We can stop the use of horns. We should watch television or hear music in low volume. We can plant trees so that they can both absorb the excessive sound & absorb the carbon dioxide & release oxygen.

It’s bit harder to prevent the collisions with near earth objects if we don’t have advance technology. First of all, we should constantly monitor NEO so that if any object approach earth, we can have immediate alarm. Then, if there’s a chance of collision with earth & if not collision, then passing very nearby; we can use advance defensive weapons. For example, we can deflect the path of the object through vaporizing (especially in case of bodies which have frozen ice in it, i.e. comets) some part of it through concentrating sunlight in space. The path can also be deflected by using nuclear weapons or by orbiting of heavy spacecraft. If a high-mass (generally all the spacecrafts have high masses) spacecraft is set to orbit the object or set to be near the object, it’ll exert gravitational force on the object, enough to change the path of the object if the process is in continuity for several months or even years. For now, we’ve these plans. But they’re not so effective. For that, we’ll have to bring more technologies or even, fly to space.

There’s nothing much preparation to save earth or electronics from solar storms. The only thing we can do is to put such shields over the electronics that the charged particles from solar storms can’t affect. We’ve to put special devices in electronics so that storms can’t harm the components of the electrical systems.

These are what we can do or are doing to prevent or control the 4 threats. But it’s quite clear that the measures I’ve discussed are not so effective to protect us for long time. Carbon dioxide got deposited in earth in such amount that we can’t do anything. Earth will warm up more & more. Moreover, though we are trying to control carbon dioxide emission, we’re not successful completely. Though; books, journals, newspapers, televisions try to aware public about global warming; a significant percent of people don’t understand or try to understand for which they’re doing what they shouldn’t. Though, it’s said that we should minimize the use of motor vehicles, it’s not possible to do so. The only thing we can do is to make pollution free fuels. The hope for cleaner fuels is through nuclear fusion. If succeeded fully to make nuclear fuels safely & in lower cost & introduce in market at a price which almost everyone can afford; then it can bring some changes. But it’s true that the carbon dioxide is deposited in such scales that it’ll certainly cause destruction in larger scale. In case of preventing collisions with near earth objects, we’ll hardly succeed in doing so as the methods we’re planning to use are not strong enough to protect us from gigantic space rocks. Collision with NEO is not the single problem. We’ll also have other problems like Gamma-ray burst, or alien invasion (there’s very low chance of these 2 problems, even less than 1%). If our civilization continues for next 5 billions years, then too we’ll have problem as the sun will run out of fuels & become a red giant, enough to swallow mercury & venus. If we’ll not have any problems from space-borne threats for centuries to come, we’ll have threats from Earth-borne threats (like, Global Warming) within less than a century. Not only this, we’re also running out of resources. From every side, we’re attacked. We’ll able to continue our civilization for another 2-3 centuries or so or may be even less than that on Earth. After that, there’s a very chance of survival here on earth. Earth is not going to be a good home after some decades. There’s no 100% guarantee that we’ll not be able to survive here for some centuries. But there’s also no 100% guarantee that we’ll survive here by looking at the threats we’ll going to face or are facing. Thus, after some centuries, we’ll have to rush to space & establish a settlement on other planets, or even asteroids, or stars or somewhere else. This is the second reason we’re investing in space. Thus, space can be our home if we can make such technology that will lead us to settlement in space. So, whether we’re interested or not, we’ve to explore space as it can be our next home.

The third reason we need to invest more in space is that the technology created in labs for space exploration can be used here on Earth in different fields like health, defense, entertainment, meteorology (weather forecasting), information technology, and in our lifestyles. Much of the technology we rely on daily was developed by NASA for space exploration & thus forming technology spinoffs. The most important application (which was created as a result of space exploration) among all the space-based applications is satellite. Today, billions of people world wide are getting benefited from satellites. Originally developed for space exploration, satellite became such an application in our lifestyles, that if removed, our lives will become a bore. Internet, television, telecommunication (mobile phones are the most popular application which is a result of telecommunication) are possible due to satellites. Even, now you don’t have to find any location on map. Global Positioning System, a novel technology possible due to satellites, will help you locate yourself anywhere, anytime. Today, every possible information come in front of us in no time through internet & internet is possible due to satellites. We can watch a program that is going on in another part of world in our home live through television & who made that possible? That is satellites. Now, you can call anyone, anywhere, anytime by dialing few digits through mobile phone & yes, it is also a result of satellites. Today, networking is possible only & only due to satellites. We can get detailed report of weather & can predict almost accurately the weather of a place of next hours. We can determine natural calamities in advance. We can have a sharp watch in our enemies about what they’re doing. And all these are possible only due to satellites, which in turn is a space technology. Technologies that were once created for exploration can now be used here on Earth. Thus, space technology creates economy & plays a key role in changing our lifestyles. The technology NASA has once produced is curing cancers in hospital. NASA has created: Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), Infrared ear thermometers, Ventricular assist device, Artificial limbs, Aircraft anti-icing systems, Highway safety, Improved radial tires, Chemical detection, Video enhancing and analysis systems, Fire-resistant reinforcement, Firefighting equipment, Temper foam, Enriched baby food, Portable cordless vacuums, Freeze drying, Water purification, Solar energy, Pollution remediation, Structural analysis software, Remotely controlled ovens, NASA Visualization Explorer, Space Race Blastoff, Powdered lubricants, Improved mine safety, Food safety; that benefited people in large scale. All these technologies were once created for space exploration, but now they can be used here on Earth. The above mentioned technologies are now used in fields like: health & medicine; transportation; public safety; consumer, home & recreation; environmental & agricultural resources, computer technology, and industrial productivity. The space technology can be used on 2 sectors: on space & on Earth. The technologies are first used in space exploration & after that, on Earth that benefit billions. Applications like satellites created applications like internet, mobile phones, televisions & thus telecommunication & entertainment industries are possible which created jobs for millions & created economy. Almost every space technology affects us in various ways. Have a look around. There’ll be many applications possible only due to space exploration. This is the third reason we need to invest in space.

For more information on NASA spinoffs & what NASA is doing for us, log on to: http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/

To be continued in Part – III…

Copyright©2012 Sandeep Deba Misra