8 Big Challenges of Space Exploration
It’s been an exciting 24 hours in space exploration with the launch of Elon Musk’s Tesla into space in the powerful Falcon Heavy. With all this talk of space, we’ve compiled a list of the 8 biggest challenges for those daring enough to risk exploring the great beyond.
Gravity is a serious drag
Getting off Earth is a little like ripping of a bandaid: You want to do it quickly, with as little pain as possible. But powerful forces conspire against you—specifically, gravity. If an object on Earth’s surface wants to fly free, it needs to shoot up and out at speeds exceeding 25,000 mph.
Wahoo! You’ve made it up into space! Oh wait, watch out! There is a problem of space debris, and it’s very real. The US Space Surveillance Network has eyes on 17,000 objects—each at least the size of a softball—hurtling around Earth at speeds of more than 17,500 mph; if you count pieces under 10 centimetres, it’s closer to 500,000 objects. Launch adapters, lens covers, even a fleck of paint can punch a crater in critical systems.
There’s no GPS in Space
At least not yet anyway. NASA is almost there with this but the reality is that the Deep Space Network, a collection of antenna arrays in California, Australia, and Spain, is the only navigation tool for space. Atomic clocks on the crafts themselves will cut transmission time in half, allowing distance calculations with a single downlink.
This video should explain more:
Space can give you a whole lot of Cancer
Outside the safe cocoon of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, subatomic particles zip around at close to the speed of light. This is space radiation, and it’s deadly. Aside from cancer, it can also cause cataracts and possibly Alzheimer’s.
Zero Gravity can really ruin your body
Weightlessness wrecks the body: It makes certain immune cells unable to do their jobs, and red blood cells explode. It gives you kidney stones and makes your heart lazy. Astronauts on the ISS exercise to combat muscle wasting and bone loss, but they still lose bone mass in space, and those zero-g spin cycles don’t help the other problems. Artificial gravity would fix all that.
Mental Health Problems are a serious issue for those who explore space
When physicians treat stroke or heart attack, they sometimes bring the patient’s temperature way down, slowing their metabolism to reduce the damage from lack of oxygen. It’s a trick that might work for astronauts too. Which is good, because to sign up for interplanetary travel is to sign up for a year (at least) of living in a cramped spacecraft with bad food and zero privacy—a recipe for space madness.
Taking things back with you isn’t always an option
When space caravans embark from Earth, they’ll leave full of supplies. But you can’t take everything with you. Seeds, oxygen generators, maybe a few machines for building infrastructure. But settlers will have to harvest or make everything else.
Luckily, space is far from barren. “Every planet has every chemical element in it,” says Ian Crawford, a planetary scientist at Birbeck, University of London, though concentrations differ. The moon has lots of aluminum. Mars has silica and iron oxide. Nearby asteroids are a great source of carbon and platinum ores—and water, once pioneers figure out how to mine the stuff. If blasters and drillers are too heavy to ship, they’ll have to extract those riches with gentler techniques: melting, magnets, or metal-digesting microbes. And NASA is looking into a process that can 3-D-print whole buildings—no need to import special equipment.
We can’t do everything by ourselves
To spread the word on the discover of a new world, we’ll need a new best friend: a robot. Current prototypes— bulky, bipedal bots that mimic human physiognomy—can barely walk on Earth. So automatons will have to be everything we aren’t—like, say, a lightweight tracked bot with backhoe claws for arms. That’s the shape of one NASA machine designed to dig for ice on Mars: Its two appendages spin in opposite directions, keeping it from flipping over as it works.
Still, we aren’t completely useless. If a job requires dexterity and precision, you want people doing it—provided they have the right duds. Today’s space suit is designed for weightlessness, not hiking on exoplanets. NASA’s prototype Z-2 model has flexible joints and a helmet that gives a clear view of whatever delicate wiring needs fixing.