Are We Entering the Second Golden Age of Space Exploration?

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the Mars One Project and its plan to create a permanent colony on our nearest neighbour, the red planet. At the moment there are five hopeful Britons in the running to become the first humans to step foot on Mars, and though it’s not currently looking fully possible, it’s the idea that’s sticking in lots of peoples minds.

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NASA wants to attempt manned missions at some point in the 2030s and there is of course the ongoing Mars Rover mission, as well as the recently rediscovered Beagle 2 (it had been assumed that the craft had been destroyed on impact with the planet).

All these articles and statements about a planet that we know barely anything about raises a question, are we entering another golden age of space exploration?

The first golden age was of course, the space race of the 1950s and 1960s between the USA and USSR – people were fascinated with the idea of space colonies and moon bases but alas, this hasn’t exactly come to be. Economics and the changes that the world has seen in the past 50 years has meant that big (or at least, well publicised) missions have been put on the back burner. 

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (1969)
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (1969)

The idea of living on the moon, the dead piece of rock that we see every day, no longer excites people in the same way that it once did. But the idea of living on Mars, a planet that for all we know, could have had (and still may have) life on it at some point, seems to have caught our attention.

As humans, we are naturally curious, we ask questions and try to solve problems. We push boundaries, shattering records that we set for ourselves and making new discoveries that we never even thought were possible. We are explorers, through and through, but for most people, it’s the ‘everyday’ that we have to focus on, not the notion of creating another home for ourselves.

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If we could somehow terraform Mars, is this how it would look?

There are those who do dream of this though, who think of the bigger picture. If, with the right thinking (and funding, we have to be realistic whilst we dream), I think that we could see a renewed interest in the idea of going ‘out there’ and seeing what we find. After all, it’s what we do best, history has shown that we can go and explore the world, whether it be the Americas or the deepest trench under the oceans.

In order to do this, we need to keep spreading stories of exploration and the work that our scientists do. One of my movie highlights for 2014 was Interstellar  – Christopher Nolan’s epic story of a desperate mankind searching for a new home because ours is becoming increasingly inhospitable (that’s something else we need to focus on at the same time). In this instance, the people who manage to save humanity are the ones willing to step out of their comfort zone, who refuse to accept the new tale that the first golden age of space travel was a hoax (minor movie spoiler alert!).

I’m sure that at some point, we will be able to set foot on another planet, and I’m kind of hoping that it’ll be within my lifetime! Some doubted that we could ever make it to the Moon, but we did. Now let’s go even further.

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