Why we Need to Explore Space (Part 1/2)

Let me first give you a rundown on the current status of Planet Earth, with a few facts and selfies. Then it might be easier to put into perspective of why we do need space.

A few recent selfies:

Uh…yea, not that pretty.

Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing our planet today.

The affects of climate change include:

  • More frequent wildfires
  • Rise in sea level, floods (terrible for farmers and agriculture)
  • Longer periods of droughts (terrible for farmer and agriculture as well, and no, extreme rise in sea level and droughts do not balance each other out)
  • Increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms
  • Increase in intensity and number of heatwaves — causing dehydration, heatstroke, and major organ damage
  • Air pollution — leading to heart & lung disease, even death
  • Vector-borne diseases

just to name a few…

Just to look at the economic damage of this, extreme weather, made worse by climate change, along with the health impacts of burning fossil fuels, has cost the U.S. economy at least $240 billion a year over the past ten years. And if you thought that was a lump sum of money lost, in the coming decade, it’s predicted that economic losses from extreme weather combined with the health costs of air pollution will spiral upward to at least $360 billion annually.

The primary cause in such a significant increase in climate change affects, has been because of human activity. Human activity, among others, has been a catalyst in significantly increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere today. CO2 is one of the most potent greenhouse gas and one of the biggest causes of it’s increase in our atmosphere is fossil fuels. Burning of fossil fuels has been inextricably linked to the rising levels of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere and is a leading contributor of climate change.

Every day, our species chews its way through more than a million terajoules of energy.

To put this into perspective, that’s how much energy used if all 7.5 billion of us boiled 70 kettles of water an hour around the clock. The problem is that more than half of our energy comes from fossil fuels extracted from deep within the Earth’s crust.

The world’s scientists agree that we are on a path towards disaster that can only be stopped by weaning ourselves off our fossil fuel habit.

Our next method to look at is renewable sources for energy to compensate for fossil fuels. Wind, solar, hydro and geothermal are all renewable energy sources that are expected to continue growing by 2.6% each year until 2040.

The only problem is wind and solar energy are highly dependent on the weather — and the time of day. This means they do not necessarily produce the bulk of their electricity at times when there are peaks in demand. We also cannot currently store electricity in large quantities yet, which means that without energy storage only about 10% of our power could come from renewable energy sources like solar.

Every additional person on this planet needs food, water, energy, and produces more waste and pollution — and every year we are adding 75 million more people to this planet. Also only 1%, out of the 70% of our earth that’s covered by water, is fresh water and accessible to us. There is only a limited supply of water on earth, that gets reused, as our population increases exponentially, the idea of water scarcity will be more of a prevalent reality in many peoples lives.

The reason why we are facing these crisis and not coming up with a fast solution, is because we are limiting ourselves to the bubble of this earth.

We already know the earth only has a limited supply of resources, and in the near future they will not be able to sustain us. Yes, the earth is scarce, but us thinking like an average joe, also means we have a scarcity mindset.

We are trapped in this bubble of earth and not thinking beyond that. Because the truth is the earth is merely just a dust particle in a huge supermarket, when compared to the entire Universe.

This means that even in our solar system, there is an abundance of potential and untapped resources we can use to sustain and prolong the human race.

The reason Space exploration is so vital and does indeed benefit humanity immensely is because of our 1.Need, for it and it’s resources, 2.Fear, making ourselves less probable to extinction as a species, and 3.Curiosity, going back to our roots of being explorers and challenging ourselves to understand the affects of our universe better and draw implications.


1. Need

Everything we hold value on the planet earth, metals, mineral, real estate, and energy,…is in infinite quantities in space.

Especially in Asteroids.

Asteroids have been speculated to lead a TRILLION $ industry.

They are also closer to the earth in terms of access, than the moon. This is because asteroids have an abundance of elements that are extremely scarce on our home planet, earth.

These include gold, silver, platinum, copper, indium, lead, palladium… the list goes on.

These elements, found in abundance in asteroids, have the potential to provide in space fuel, build in space platforms, and provide an abundance of rare earth elements, decreasing the scarcity and the cost on earth.

There are 3 categories companies have classified these asteroids into: C-type, S-type, and M-type.

C-type Asteroids

C-type asteroids are the-much-less-obviously precious asteroid in comparison to their counter S-type and M-type asteroids that hold abundance of expensive metals such as platinum. But C-type asteroids are a necessity for outer space travel and even earth, this is because C-type asteroids hold an abundance of water. There are an estimated two trillion tonnes of water available on near-Earth asteroids. This water can be used to sustain human life and as propellant for spacecraft.

Water can be readily extracted from C-type (carbonaceous asteroids), and then through a process called electrolysis, be split by electricity , into hydrogen and oxygen to make rocket propellant, the key ingredients of rocket fuel.

This is HUGE. Rockets and space crafts can be fuelled in space to reach further distances and explore more resources in our solar system by harnessing the abundant resource of water found in the 18 000+ near to earth asteroids.

This could help hydrate other off world ventures like, say, a moon colony, or to replenish our depleted or polluted reserves here on Earth.

Currently it costs $20, 000 to send one litre of water from earth to Deep Space.

We can actually reduce the amount of cargo taking to deep space as well as the amount of rocket propellent needed. Researchers suggests we can have propellent deposits near earth, once the rocket reaches geo-stationary orbit, it can be fuelled by these deposits to go on to further expeditions and explorations.

Galactic gas stations ;)

Using rocket propellant produced in space will reduce the cost of doing everything else in space, initiating a virtuous cycle for the off-Earth supply chain and transportation network.

One example of a supply chain mining C-type asteroids could have an impact on, is the satellite industry.

One concept is to sell water converted to fuel to telecommunications companies for boosting satellites into orbit. Currently, once a satellite reaches geo-stationary orbit, it takes them approximately 6–12 months to reach final orbit. 
Time is money, so this delay still costs the satellite-owners hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues. With asteroid mining however, mining companies could potentially sell water to an in-space transportation company, which will use it to refuel a space tug parked in Earth orbit. The tug will dock with the newly launched satellite in geostationary transfer orbit, and boost it to the final orbit quickly, within a day saving a bunch of $$ for satellite companies.

S-type and M-type asteroids

S-type and M-type asteroids contain more precious metals. More significantly they contain heaps of platinum group metals. One asteroid could contain as much as $50 billion worth of platinum as platinum is a scarce element on earth.

This is especially huge for the electronics industry as currently China dominates the marketplace by having a stranglehold on these scarce precious metals to develop electronic devices. Because of this, China had the liberty to jack up the prices and capitalize the cost on these electronics.

Now with asteroid mining companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources we can significantly reduce the cost of platinum based products and make it more feasible for everyone to own technological devices.

These companies have yet to actually mine an asteroid but their working on building technology deployed to first identify the quantity of resources in an asteroid to determine which asteroid is suitable to mine.

Arkyd-6

An example is Planetary Resources Arkyd-6 which is an instrument capable of detecting water on near-earth asteroids by a broadband imager spanning 3 to 5 microns within the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. This region is sensitive to the presence of water — including that in hydrated minerals — and thermal energy, allowing it to be used as a tool to search for water on Earth and beyond.

Moon

A part from asteroids, the Moon is also home to various precious metals and rare minerals such as water and helium-3. Helium 3 is an extremely valubale element that is extremely scarce on earth, but is found in abundance on the moon. This is because, unlike Earth, which is protected by its magnetic field, the Moon has been bombarded with large quantities of Helium-3 by the solar wind. The reason why this element is so precious is because Helium-3 is an isotope that is said to be the key to developing safe nuclear energy in a fusion reactor, as the element is not radioactive therefore won’t produce dangerous nuclear waste.

Nuclear fusion is the same process that fuels the Sun which lets the Sun emit unbelivable amounts of energy that can last for 4.5 billion years! We currently try to mimic the sun and create our own nuclear fusion reactor here on earth, to harness and replicate that power to create heaps amount of energy as well. The hydrogen isotopes, titrium and deutrium are used as the fuel for nuclear fusion as the fusing of their nuclei produces immense amount of atomic energy, helium and a neutron. There’s a slight issue with the feasibility though, as the element titrium is extremely scarce on earth preventing the surplus of energy generation here on earth. It also produces nuclear waste.

The so-termed “fast” neutrons released by nuclear fusion reactors fuelled by tritium and deuterium lead to significant energy loss and are extremely difficult to contain.

The abundance of Helium-3 found on the moon can lead to an alternative solution for future more efficient fusion reactors. Helium-3 and deuterium fuse to create normal helium and a proton, which wastes less energy and is easier to contain. This means that nuclear fusion reactors using helium-3 could prove to provide a highly efficient form of nuclear power with virtually no waste and no radiation.

Nuclear Fusion with the Helium-3 isotope

Companies like MoonExpress are at the forefront of the race to space (more specifically the moon) by developing a series of robotic explorers to “bring the moon in reach of everyone.” Their missions include delivering payloads to the moon cheaper than current methods, harvesting resources from the moon and setting up lunar research outposts.

2. Fear

“Our greatest strength can also be our biggest weakness”

The extinction of the dinosaurs that occurred 66 million years ago, was caused by a gigantic asteroid hitting the earth killing the entire species all at once.

Boom. bye bye Dinos.

The same resource in space that could save humanity, could also end humanity. We are surrounded by over 16,000+ asteroids, In 2028, the asteroid 1997XF11 will come extremely close to Earth. If something were to change and it hit Earth, what you would have is a mile-wide asteroid striking the planet’s surface at about 30,000 mph. An asteroid that big traveling at that speed has the energy roughly equal to a 1 million megaton bomb. It’s very likely that an asteroid like this would wipe out most of the life on the planet.

This is a big What If? but for the longevity of the human race surviving, the rate at which our planet is depleating with natural disasters, scarce resources, climate change and over population, it is unlikely the earth will be able to sustain us for very long.

In order to maximize the chances of the survival of the human race, many experts suggest, becoming an interplanetary species and exploring different planets is the way to go.

“One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. I do not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event. The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go.” -Elon Musk

Through exploration we have identified water on Mars, Mars is an ideal target because it has a day about the same length as Earth’s and water ice on its surface.

Companies like SpaceX are on a mission to colonise Mars by reducing the cost it takes to get to Mars as well as increase the speed. They are doing this by creating reusable rockets that hope to cut the cost of launch by a 10th.

3. Curiosity

Curiosity and the desire to explore is one of the most primitive factors behind why humans built the Apollo 11 and challenged our capabilities to successfully land the first manned mission on the moon in 1969.

Curiosity leads new discoveries, which more often than not can have a huge positive impact and can benefit the human race immensely. An example being a group of scientists in Kentucky, coining the term exomedicine and sending payloads of experiments into space on board the international space station. Their purpose was just that they were curious on how different organisms and molecules behaved in microgravity, in comparison to earth, and if this could lead to a potential breakthrough in healthcare and medicine.

This is because gravity has an affect on a molecular level, so the scientist were curious about what would happen to different particles assembling in an environment where gravity can be eliminated from the equation.

“When you take gravity out of the equation, what you find is that basically all of your assumptions about how biomedical systems, organisms, genes, et cetera, operate, go out the window.”

A gene expression in space might be different from what you’d see on Earth. The force of microgravity can lead to potential bio-manufactured products made in space to provide solutions to current unsolvable problems here on earth.

Protein Crystallization

Researchers have found that proteins are able to crystallize quicker and more efficiently in microgravity environments. This is huge as protein crystallization is a method to accurately determine and map-out the dimensional structure of the protein. This is important as determining the 3-D structure of a protein, allows researchers to understand how to optimize the targeting and binding of those proteins for drugs to cure chronic diseases such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. The more that is known about the shape of a protein, the easier it is to design a drug to specifically and efficiently interact with that protein.

Earth’s gravity creates convection currents in the solution making defects more probable in the process of protein crystallization. Microgravity has virtually no convection currents allowing the protein molecules to form a well structured crystal for researchers to analyse.

Regenerative medicine

Researchers also experimented with sending payloads of flatworms on board the ISS. They cut the flatworm into pieces — heads, middle pieces, and tails — to see how they would regenerate in space. The result was that all the tails grew heads, and all the heads grew tails. One worm out of 15 also grew two heads from the middle fragment which is an unusual result in the regeneration process of flatworms.

This can lead to discoveries in regenerative medicine to understand how we can potentially regenerate and grow new limbs, repair spinal cords, and correct developmental problems in embryos in humans!

Key Takeaways:

  1. The resources on our planet earth are scarce, the resources in space is abundant.
  2. We need to explore space to harness it’s resources such as water, helium-3, abundance of space (pardon the pun), and precious metals, to support the human race.
  3. Resources in space, amounted together can start a trillion dollar industry.
  4. We also need to explore space to become less probable to extinction as a species and to discover other habitable places in our universe.
  5. We also need to explore space out of curiosity which can lead to medical discoveries such as regenerative medicine.

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