Science

The New Space Race

The space race captured the minds of people across the globe, with the great rockets of America and the Soviet Union blasting off in the race to explore the heavens. Now the Soviet Union is long gone and man hasn’t set foot on the moon for decades, but the race is beginning again…

It is no longer run by superpowers seeking global dominance but by visionaries, billionaires and private companies. The prize for the winners will not just be a page in history but wealth, resources and prestige.

Governments no longer hold the monopoly on space flight. In October of this year a private company, SpaceX, took over the delivery of cargo to the International Space Station. Its spaceship, ‘Dragon’ became the first commercial space craft to return from orbit. It was also the first time that a business has extended its market quite literally out of this world.

Hauling cargo is just one reason for venturing into space. Tourists are forever looking for somewhere new and what can be more exciting than the final frontier? Space tourism actually began a few years ago with the ultra rich being able to buy a week’s visit to the international space station for the small sum of around £20 million. And everyone’s heard of Richard Branson’s ‘Virgin Galactic’ which aim to offer trips to space from 2014.

There are also far grander plans being made. Bigelow Aerospace is thinking more along the lines of a space hotel. So far they have two small space stations in orbit to test the concept. Their hotel will be packed into a rocket to get it into space, and once there pressurized air will inflate it to a huge size. Orbiting the earth several times a day, the tourists on board will see 16 sunsets and sunrises a day. For holidays in space you obviously need to get there first – SpaceX are on the scene again designing a capsule which will take up to seven people at a time to the orbiting hotels.

Mining is also now becoming a drive to get into space. The two founders of Google have already invested a great deal in the hope of mining asteroids. On Earth, materials like Gold and Platinum are relatively rare, whilst in space they are far more numerous. An asteroid roughly 100m wide could be worth up to £31 billion if processed into the raw materials. The Google bosses know that a return on their investment is a long way off but when Earth starts to run out of accessible materials, they will have the upper hand.

It’s still early days but it is plain to see that space is slowly becoming more accessible. As technology is improved by these early pioneers, cost will go down allowing others to join the race. The new Space Race is just beginning, one that will take humanity out of this world.

Tim Winstanley

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