Space travel has become en vogue again. Thanks to the critically acclaimed efforts of Christopher Nolans blockbuster Interstellar, ideas of empowering human expeditions across the universe are gathering interest at high speed – and as Stuart Armstrong pointed out at TEDxVienna 2014: “The sky is most definitely not the limit.”
“If we survive, some humans will likely colonize the universe,” Armstrong assumed. Reaching for infinity and beyond has been seen as the ultima ratio for the ever-growing, ever-expanding human race. The following 5 space science stories in the coming spring will show you, why space travel is as hot as ever.
Dawn at Ceres
“Ceres is actually the largest water reservoir in the inner solar system other than the Earth, however, it’s unclear how much, if any, of this water is liquid.”
Jian-Yang Li, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, underlined the importance of the exploration of the dwarf planet Ceres. Now, shortly after exploring giant asteroid Vesta from July 2011 to September 2012, the Dawn – expedition will become the first mission to re-enter orbit at a different site.
NASA is looking to investigate whether the biggest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter could potentially be a favorable settlement destination for human space travel endeavours. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive on March 6th – and in doing so will be the first probe to study a dwarf planet.
End of Messenger
Less than a fortnight later, a long-running space program will come to an end. NASA’s exploration of Mercury, named Messenger, was initially launched in 2004 and had been orbiting the planet for the last four years. After studying environment and geology of Mercury, the extended mission will eventually come to an close on March 18th. Check out the infograph below for the hard facts about the Messenger project.
One year mission
Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko will have done what no one has before by being the first humans to spend an entire year at the International Space Station. While Cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov will still hold the record for the longest human spaceflight, it will be a novelty in the ranks of NASA.
As part of Expedition 43 – the mission will begin on March 27th – the scenario is meant to study the effects of long-duration spaceflights and possible provide information for eventual missions to Mars: “The one-year increment will expand the bounds of how we live and work in space and will increase our knowledge regarding the effects of microgravity on humans as we prepare for future missions beyond low-Earth orbit.”
Hubble turns 25
The well-known space telescope has provided us with amazing images over the last 25 years. Among them are the famous pillars of creation, which have recently been shown in different light – adding a whole new perspective. After being launched in 1990, Hubble will celebrate its 25th anniversary on April 24th this spring.
Hubble has become a “modern icon of the space age”, and the orbiting telescope is still going strong – for the curious ones there is an entire YouTube channel named Hubblecast, providing you with regular updates.
New Horizons at Pluto
Last but not least, this summer we will finally get our first close look at our favourite dwarf planet, Pluto. On July 14th, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly less than 14,000 kilometres from its surface, putting an end to a journey which almost took an entire decade after being launched in 2006.
Being beaten by the Dawn probe as the first mission to study a dwarf planet by merely a few months, the New Horizons mission is eventually expected to continue space exploration after finishint its studies at Pluto. Current plans see the spacecraft travel further on, to the more distant Kuiper Belt objects, which have only recently been discovered by the Hubble telescope.
Whether any of these missions will help us with colonizing the universe is yet to be found out. But seeing how fast new discoveries are coming about, space travel is definitely an exciting issue to follow over the next couple of months. And in case you heard of any other space stories worth spreading, just drop us a comment and let us know!