Space Exploration—What Does the Future Hold?
WITH the collapse of the Soviet Communist empire, most of the competition has gone out of the space race. Some scientists are now without their original motivation—someone to beat. Instead of competing, Russian and American space scientists are talking of cooperating, of pooling their knowledge and skill. But there are still aims to achieve and questions to answer. One question many ask is, What are the benefits for mankind from all this tremendous effort and expense to explore outer space?
A NASA publication says that during the span of the last three decades, “more than 300 launches [of unmanned craft] were conducted for programs ranging from solar system exploration to improved weather forecasting, global communications and Earth resources studies.” Have the results justified the vast amounts of money poured into these programs? NASA asserts that they “have more than repaid the nation’s investment in time, money and technical talent.” NASA further justifies the expense by saying: “About 130,000 Americans are employed because of the space program conducting research to improve fire-resistant fabrics and paint, smaller and longer lasting radios and TVs, tougher plastics, stronger adhesives, electronic monitoring systems for hospital patients, improved computer technology, as well as other areas of research.”
Another peripheral benefit of the space program is the more detailed mapping of the earth’s surface, and even below the earth’s surface. The second shuttle flight included an experiment “using a relatively primitive optical recorder.” It “was supposed to be a simple geological survey using ground-imaging radar.” (Prescription for Disaster, by J. J. Trento) But there was an unexpected payoff. “When the ship returned and the images . . . were processed, the roads and streets of an ancient city buried by the sands of the Sahara were revealed. A lost civilization was discovered.” Moreover, there is another benefit that affects all of us.
What Will the Weather Be?
The daily weather forecast, with maps and visual aids, is something most people with a TV now take for granted. Yet, how it changes our ability to plan for each day! Usually, if there is going to be a storm or it is going to rain or snow, you will know hours ahead of time—thanks to the weather satellites out there in earth orbit.
For the last 30 years, meteorological satellites have been transmitting information on the earth’s weather. A NASA publication states: “These satellites not only make it possible to understand our environment better, they also help to protect us from its dangers.” It notes further that in 1969 a hurricane struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast, causing property damage worth $1.4 billion. “Yet, thanks to weather satellite forecast, only 256 people lost their lives, and most of these could have been spared if they had heeded the early warnings to evacuate the area.” Surely, these benefits could be applied to other parts of the earth that regularly suffer from the deadly effects of monsoons and storms.
Space scientists are not just interested in spin-off benefits for earth’s inhabitants. Their goals go much further. So, what does the future hold for space exploration?
The Space Station Challenge
What many space scientists see as a vital need is a genuine, functioning space station. NASA calculates that $30 billion will be needed through the year 2000 for the space station Freedom that is being built. Since the station has been planned for some years, $9 billion has already been spent, according to a NASA source. But how can the experts get their space station into orbit? It is calculated that the U.S. shuttle would have to make at least 17 manned flights to get Freedom out there piece by piece. That amounts to a very expensive and time-consuming operation. What could be a solution?
Some have suggested that the Russians and the Americans join forces and use the powerful Russian Energia rockets to get Freedom out there. The Energia, described by New York Times writer Serge Schmemann as “a 20 story flying skyscraper,” could help speed up the U.S. space station project. The Russians need U.S. dollars, and here would be their opportunity for some smart capitalism. U.S.News & World Report stated: “Six unmanned Energias could put up the entire space station, cheaply and without risking human life.”
Of course, the United States and the Russian Federation are not the only nations involved in space exploration. Among other initiatives, the European Space Agency, through the French Arianespace company, produces expendable rockets for commercial satellite launchings. Japan is also reaching for the stars, and “by the turn of this century, Japan plans to become the first Asian nation to establish a permanent human presence in space,” according to recent information published in Asiaweek. The first official Japanese astronaut, Mamoru Mohri, is scheduled for a seven-day mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 1992. The same report says that “the mission is an important prelude to Japan’s plans to contribute to the [U.S.] Freedom space station.” This project will also have the cooperation of European and Canadian space scientists.
Another ambition also fires the imagination of many—the desire to populate and exploit other planets. George Henry Elias, in his book Breakout Into Space—Mission for a Generation, writes: “The construction of an interplanetary civilization is essential to the survival of our species. . . . We humans now occupy an entire planet, and it is time for us to move on to a larger habitat. An empty solar system awaits us.” His immediate sights are on the planet Mars.
One person who definitely thinks man should go to Mars is Michael Collins, former astronaut who piloted Gemini 10 in 1966 and also piloted the command module of Apollo 11, which took man to the moon. In his book Mission to Mars, he says: “Mars seems friendly, accessible, even habitable.”
Bruce Murray, longtime manager of Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, strongly advocates a joint United States-Russian venture to Mars. As a cofounder of the Planetary Society, he has recently pushed the “To Mars . . . Together” initiative. He says: “Mars is the planet of the future. It will constitute a playing field for the adventuresome members of future generations.”
Marshall Brement, former U.S. ambassador to Iceland, writes: “The two countries can teach each other much in this field [of space]. The Soviet manned space program is second to none; Soviet cosmonauts hold all the records for time in orbit. . . . Commitments by both nations to establish together a station on the moon, to circumnavigate Venus, and to land on Mars could have great scientific value.”
The Planetary Society, which includes as a founder Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan, published “The Mars Declaration,” which stated: “Mars is the world next door, the nearest planet on which human explorers could safely land. . . . Mars is a storehouse of scientific information—important in its own right but also for the light it may cast on the origins of life and on safeguarding the environment of the Earth.” Scientists are intrigued by the mystery of the origin of life. The Bible’s simple answer does not satisfy them: “You are worthy, Jehovah, even our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power, because you created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.”—Revelation 4:11; Romans 3:3, 4.
Problems to Be Faced
However, Murray, along with other scientists, recognizes some of the problems of such long-distance interplanetary flights. For example, astro/cosmonauts would take about a year of interplanetary flight to get to Mars. Thus, a round-trip would take at least two years, without allowing for time spent on Mars. The effects of weightlessness are not completely understood. A NASA publication states: “Among these are the leaching of certain minerals from bones; atrophy of muscles when not exercised; and space adaptation syndrome, a form of motion sickness found only in spaceflight.”
So far, no human has experienced weightlessness for such a long period. However, Russian cosmonauts are getting there. On March 25, 1992, after ten months in space in the Russian space station MIR, 33-year-old Sergei Krikalev returned to earth. He was a little groggy when lifted from the return capsule, but he had shown that man can survive long periods of weightlessness. And weightlessness is not the only problem that astro/cosmonauts have to face, as the Russians have discovered.
When you put a group of people into a confined space for any length of time, you will eventually have personality and psychological problems. The Time-Life book Outbound, in the series Voyage Through the Universe, states: “Irritability levels tend to rise with every week of a mission. During the [Soviet] Salyut missions, ground controllers noticed that cosmonauts grew increasingly testy at what they deemed stupid questions. . . . During the extended 1977 mission of Grechko and Romanenko, ground controllers also established a ‘psychological support group’ to monitor the cosmonauts’ mental health.” Grechko said: “Competition within a crew is one of the most harmful things, especially if each starts trying to prove that he is the best.” He added that in outer space, “you have no psychological outlets. It is much more dangerous there.”
Thus, any long-term interplanetary travel is going to be a delicate balancing act, considering all the scientific, mechanical, and psychological factors that are involved. Putting up with one another is not easy for people here on earth; how much more difficult in the confines of a spacecraft.—Compare Colossians 3:12-14.
Will Man Ever Reach the Planets?
The famous American Star Trek films have whetted the appetite of millions for space travel. What are the future prospects for manned exploration of other planets? There are two perspectives to be taken into account—the human and the divine. After all, the Bible says that Jehovah is “the Maker of heaven and earth. As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.”—Psalm 115:15, 16; Genesis 1:1.
We have already seen that many scientists are optimistic about mankind’s ability to reach Mars and settle on it. Human curiosity and a yearning for knowledge will no doubt continue to impel men and women to expand the frontiers of discovery. One of the purposes of the Hubble Space Telescope, according to a NASA fact sheet, is to “search for other worlds, other galaxies and the very origins of the universe itself.” NASA also states: “The outlook for space activities in the 21st century is exciting and challenging. We can envision such important achievements as industries operating in orbit, Moon bases, and manned expeditions to Mars. Now that the space frontier has been crossed, there is no turning back.”
What can be said from a Biblical viewpoint? True, man was told by God to ‘multiply and fill the earth.’ (Genesis 1:28) At the same time, he was given intelligence and an insatiable desire to know more about his context, including the biosphere, the stratosphere, and beyond. That context includes our tiny solar system and the stars beyond. Thus, King David was inspired to write some three thousand years ago: “When I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have prepared, what is mortal man that you keep him in mind, and the son of earthling man that you take care of him?”—Psalm 8:3, 4.
The Hubble telescope recently transmitted an image of the giant galaxy M87. It was described as a blob of light that consists of two trillion stars! Can you imagine that figure? How far away is M87? Fifty-two million light-years from earth—“relatively close on the intergalactic distance scale!” Let’s face it, man and the earth are so infinitesimal compared to the unimaginable vastness of universal space! What Jehovah is doing and will do in all that endless space is beyond our present comprehension. Regardless of man’s ambitions for outer space, an issue has been raised on our planet that must first be settled by God’s intervention.—Revelation 16:14-16.
Issue to Be Settled
The issue is the choice between rule by God and rule by Satan. That is why Jehovah’s Witnesses are proclaiming worldwide that God must soon take action to cleanse the earth of wickedness, corruption, murder, violence, and war.—Mark 13:10; 2 Corinthians 4:4.
Astronauts who have peered down upon our earth from hundreds of miles out in space have marveled at the beauty of this planetary jewel. Viewed from high up, the earth shows no political boundaries to divide and separate. It is just one beautiful, global home for the human family. Yet, here we have a world full of greed, envy, lies, exploitation, injustice, terror, fear, crime, and violence. What do mankind need to bring them to their senses?
The Bible shows that Jehovah God, earth’s Maker and Landlord, will soon take action against this planet’s unruly and unrulable tenants. Only the truly meek will be left to inherit the earth. Then only will we get to see what further purposes God has in mind for an obedient human family.—Psalm 37:11, 29; Revelation 11:18; 16:14-16.
[Box on page 14]
NASA pulled off a coup in May of this year when three astronauts from the space shuttle Endeavor manhandled a wayward 9,000-pound [4,080 kg] communications satellite during a space walk. They brought it to the cargo bay where a new booster rocket was attached. The satellite was then fired to a high orbit before being brought down to its working position 22,300 miles [35,900 km] above the earth.
[Pictures on page 15]
1. Artist’s rendering of the projected “Freedom” space station;
2. Weightlessness is a problem faced by interplanetary travelers;
3. Earth seen from the moon;
Photos 1-4, NASA photo; 5 Photo NASA/JPL