A Time Travel Trip Through Space History
A brief introduction into the constantly expanding universe that is space exploration and technology.
Dating back to the dawn of humanity, mankind has consistently been at the forefront of extending the frontiers of the unexplored. From the depths of the ocean, to the poles of the Earth; investigating various aspects of these unknowns seem completely plausible however there is an immense challenge that society faces.
Heavily referred to as the final frontier, space exploration has been a topic of much interest for many decades and great strides have been made in progressing our knowledge of space. Although we aren’t even remotely close to conquering the final frontier, we’ve taken giant leaps and have come a long way. Let me take you back in time… ⏪
(We’re travelling at warp speed by the way, hold tight!) 🚀
T — 13.8 Billion Years until Launch… 👨🚀
I know you all want to get into the fascinating and revolutionary technologies; but first, a history lesson.
Take a brief moment to close your eyes and visualize the most empty and desolate point of oblivion that you can possibly imagine. Done? Good. Now cube the magnitude of that emptiness seven thousand trillion times; and still, we aren’t even remotely close to describing the sheer solitude of this place. A concept our feeble human minds can only dream of comprehending.
Regardless of our inability to grasp it, the reality is as follows: everything as we know it, from atoms to humans and even the keyboard I’m using to write this very article, originated from that singular point of desolation. But how? ❓
The Origins of Everything:
What happened at the very beginning, instantaneously speaking, is a mystery to say the least. A blunt way of addressing this is that we have absolutely no clue as to what occurred before 10⁻³⁶ seconds after the materialization of the universe itself. At this point, the universe encountered an exceptionally brief and rapid exponential period of expansion referred to as the inflationary epoch which lasted until 10⁻³² seconds after the creation of the universe. The inflation, which expanded at speeds faster than the speed of light caused the universe to double in magnitude at least 90 times within fractions of a second. This period is often given credit for being the “Bang” within the Big Bang. 💥
After this period of inflation, the universe consistently remained in a state of expansion… and fast forward 13.8 billion years and the universe is still expanding at significant rates. For the initial 380,000 years following the Big Bang, the universe was violently hot with temperatures at about 5.5 billion degrees Celsius; these conditions halted light from initializing in the universe (due to a phenomenon between free electrons and photons). As the universe routinely cooled down, this allowed for particles to combine eventually creating the first atoms ever and since free electrons were no longer roaming around, light had the ability to travel. One problem though… there were no stars or galaxies to emit light. ⚡
The absence of light during the cosmic dark ages lasted almost a billion years. The earliest indications of stars and galaxies being formed can be placed at about 100–400 million years on the timeline after the Big Bang. An example being the galaxy GN-z11 (the oldest and most distant galaxy within the observable universe). These early stars were composed of the gaseous building block elements that compose approximately 98% of our universe today such as hydrogen and helium. As time progressed, clusters of galaxies began to formulate; which eventually became superclusters, 1 billion years following the Big Bang.
As billions of years passed, cosmic structures and celestial bodies became more and more frequent due to gravitational collapse; one particular collapse is of considerable importance to the humanity…
4.5 billion years ago, in our very position lay a nebula cloud defined as an exceptionally dense cloud composed of interstellar dust and gas; majority of it being hydrogen and helium. It is believed that a surplus of energy from a dying star (or supernova) sent a shockwave which caused this dense cloud to collapse and under its own gravitational pull, all these elements fell towards the center because there was the least centripetal force (relates to a force that makes a body follow a curved path, in our case it’s gravity) there which can be described by the equation: Centripetal Force= Mass x Centripetal Acceleration.
As matter continuously built up in the center of the nebula, nuclear fusion began to occur where two or more hydrogen atoms fused together to create helium and more energy was produced. Eventually this energy became overwhelming and it was unleashed creating our Sun which accounts for 99.8% of the mass in our solar system.
The leftover material held in the spinning nebula by the Sun’s gravity began colliding; which went on for prolonged periods of time and multiple different stages until we were left with our 8 planets. The surplus of substance remaining that couldn’t form into spherical planets became asteroids which reside in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. 🌠
And thus… the solar system came into existence; and has acted as mankind’s home for millions of years. 🏡
T — 63 Years until Launch… 👨🚀
The period of time following World War II was a prosperous one to say the least. Technological advancements were at an all time high, the economy was booming and all major conflicts were more or less over… except for the Cold War. During the 1950s, tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were peaking due to nuclear threats and the expansion of two global superpowers.
The Space Age begins…
Also peaking during this time happened to be the trend of exploring space. It was thought that we had conquered most of the challenges presented to us on Earth and space was that next step. The United States entered a state of panic when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first man-made object, into orbit on October 4th, 1957. Following these events came the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin… a Soviet astronaut. These occurrences instilled a feeling of fear all throughout the Western Hemisphere. Are the Soviets really that technologically advanced already? 😲
Sputnik 1 triggered possibly the most monumental event for US space exploration, the formation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to solely focus on the potential of space exploration.
In order to prevent falling too far behind, the United States needed to make a statement to show their dominance… and FAST! Resultantly, President John F. Kennedy set an ambitious goal (or moonshot!) for the United States and made the moon the next target for humanity to land. Not only did they need to land on the moon safely, they also needed to beat the USSR to the punch. The Space Race to the moon was underway.
When JFK presented the potential of humans walking on the surface of the moon, the idea seemed… out of this world! 🌎(See what I did there? 😉) The technology available to society at that point was simply not advanced enough in order to deploy and return a lunar module from the moon. NASA did everything in their power to make this dream a reality; over 400,000 individuals contributed to developing the technology in order to allow for humans on the moon. Seven years later, on July 20th 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” on the surface of the moon. 🌙
This brief seven year span can be described as one of the most revolutionary periods of time regarding technological advancements and the birth of our addiction to exploring space. In addition to society’s unimaginable progress made in regards to space technology such as protective coatings for astronauts, cameras built for space and more; we utilized these advancements for implementation in everyday life… and they unknowingly play a major role in your daily routine.
You know those fresh new Nike kicks you just bought? You can thank the original Moon Boot for their unbelievable shock absorption and stability technology that allows you to run with utmost comfort.👟
How about those security alarms you have at every entrance in your home? Vibration-sensing detectors were developed using NASA technology that picks up the movements of anyone within a certain proximity and relays warnings to the necessary individuals. This allows for you and your family to live with peace of mind that intruders will trigger an alarm to not compromise your safety. 🚨
Nevertheless, the Space Age has sanctioned the innovation of a multitude of technologies that have transformed the course of humanity. From technologies that allow us to test the limits of space exploration to tools that benefit with simple tasks in everyday life, we’ve certainly benefitted from this period of time. Mankind isn’t stopping here, we want to continuously push the limits of what’s possible and we’re always establishing new ways to make it happen. 💪
T — 0 Seconds until Launch…? 👨🚀
In today’s society there are fundamental challenges that humankind faces in order to harness the potential of space exploration and interstellar travel among other things.
So far we’ve identified 4 primary categories in which we can fit majority of the problems we face in relation to space travel; each category contains a multitude of smaller problems that we encounter en route to solving these challenges:
- Departure 🚀
- In-flight 👨🚀
- Arrival 🎯
- Outer Limits 🌌
Problem 1: Departure 🚀
Everything on our planet is acted upon by the force of gravity, this includes me, you and especially a rocket trying to escape the Earth’s orbit. The drag created by gravity and air resistance makes it an extremely difficult task to escape as we need to be travelling at a specific speed known as escape velocity. By this, we mean the rocket needs to have enough kinetic energy to escape the pull of gravity and this is achieved at a minimum of 25,000 miles per hour or 7 miles per second. ⏩
But why is this a problem? The Juno Spacecraft recently attained speeds of up to 165,000 miles per hour so surely this doesn’t pose too much of a threat to space travel right? … Right?
Wrong. The problem isn’t the escape velocity we need to achieve, but rather the technology we use to do just that. Simply put, the chemical rockets we use today are unbelievably inefficient. Our current approach to launching rockets into space is somewhat primitive; collect an abundance of fuel and chemicals, explode it using an oxidizer and utilize Newton’s Third Law to hopefully break out of Earth’s orbit.
Chemical rockets burn around 11,000 lbs. of fuel per second at lift-off; for perspective, this is about 2,000,000x the rate at which fuel is burned in an average family car. As you can imagine, this means we need to spend considerable sums of money in order to acquire the fuel required for rockets to depart Earth, let alone travel complete interstellar travel.
Solution Spotlight: SpaceX 💲
So what’s the solution then? How do make more efficient rockets?
Elon Musk who can be considered as a visionary of the 21st century has founded multiple revolutionary companies; Tesla, Neuralink, PayPal among others. In addition to this, Elon founded SpaceX; a company focused on reducing the costs of space transportation and increasing efficiency in the process.
SpaceX has successfully completing the mission of developing and manufacturing a fully reusable rocket capable of landing back on Earth which as a result reduces costs . The Falcon 9 project built a two-stage rocket that allows for the boosters that enabled lift-off to return back and land on Earth once the rocket had reached an altitude of 100km.
This reusability factor is an absolute game changer when it comes to the global rocket industry and space exploration as a whole. Rockets can be compared to aircrafts on a certain scale; if we had to build an airplane for every flight that occurs, our travel industry wouldn’t be as accessible or cheap as it is today. SpaceX has similar goals in place for the space exploration industry; they plan on treating rockets more like airplanes and less like missiles. 🛫
For reference, NASA’s Space Shuttle program cost between $450 million and $1.5 billion per launch; SpaceX has decreased those costs through reusability with their Falcon 9 to about $60 million per launch. This decrease is significant. 📉
Problem 2: In-Flight 👨🚀
Humans have inhabited Earth for around 2 million years filled with evolution, innovation and growth. Throughout this period, our bodies have learned to adapt and evolve in a mannerism that allows humans to thrive and have the ability to withstand Earth’s toughest challenges. As time progressed, as did our fascination with space; every child has looked up at the stars and fantasized about the possibilities that may lie beyond the sky.
For a large amount of people, this dream becomes a reality when they first launch off planet Earth in their expensive Extravehicular Mobility Unit (or spacesuit if you’re feeling fancy!) travelling at 25,000 miles per hour in an unbelievably complex rocket system. Having the opportunity to go to space is a once in a lifetime occurrence and in this “dream come true” moment with adrenaline pumping, astronauts fail to assess the long term risks that space constitutes on their body. 👨🦳
Two threats in particular pose an imminent threat to space travel as we know it: Space radiation and the degeneration of the human body in microgravity.
Radiation can be described as a certain form of energy that is emitted in the form of rays, waves or particles. However, space radiation is a little different; it’s comprised of atoms/molecules that have had their electrons disappear as they accelerate within space, these atoms are eventually left with just the nucleus. This type of radiation is extremely ionizing and without the protection of the Earth, can put astronauts in a life-threatening position time and time again. Space radiation has the potential to inflict cancer, degenerative diseases and radiation sickness on humans that are exposed to this at all. On the International Space Station (which is still under the protection of Earth’s magnetic field), astronauts are exposed to 10x the radiation than on Earth; now imagine the effects on space radiation if we attempt to send humans on missions of interstellar travel. ☢
When in space, astronauts experience a phenomenon called weightlessness due to the very limited gravity in a spacecraft; this is called microgravity. Prolonged exposure to microgravity can result in negative impacts on your bones, muscles, cardiovascular systems, central nervous system as well as an increased risk of having cancer (just to name a few). This is because the human body hasn’t had the opportunity to adapt and evolve in order to combat the challenges in space; and although we have certain techniques to slow down the effects of microgravity such as rigorous exercise routines and nutrition, these harmful effects take action regardless. 👨⚕️
Solution Spotlight: Pluristem Therapeutics 🧬
Although, our body has limits on what physical challenges the human race can endure, our minds are constantly improving and the possibilities are endless when it comes to the triumphs we have the potential to accomplish.
Leading the charge in pushing the boundaries when it comes to biotechnology in space is Pluristem Therapeutics, a regenerative medicine company specializing in developing novel placenta-based cell therapy products.
Pluristem has entered into a partnership with NASA’s Ames Research Center in order to explore the possibilities relating to their mission and the prospective benefits for space missions in the future. Majority of harmful effects relate back to blood, muscle, bone, heart and brain; all of which Pluristem has proven to rehabilitate in the past using their technologies. 🧠
Pluristem Therapeutics have developed their own proprietary cell therapy products called PLacental eXpanded (PLX) cells that are originally derived from placenta cells. The placenta is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy and the cells themselves exhibit a multitude of properties that assist in tissue regeneration, pain reduction and more 🤰. An iteration of their PLX cells (PLX-PAD) have mechanisms that allow for the secretion of proteins to produce muscle tissue regeneration and reduce connective tissue deposition. This is just one of their many technologies that range from being able to recover the ability to create new blood cells again as well as combatting the rapid spread of cancer cells received from radiation exposure.
Problem 3: Arrival 🎯
Following approximately $650 billion spent by NASA and billions spent by space agencies worldwide, we still have no proficient mechanisms or systems that allow us as humans to land on celestial bodies safe and sound on a consistent basis.
For example, Mars exhibits an unbelievably thin atmosphere with an atmospheric volume of about 0.6% of Earth’s atmosphere; all while having gravity 0.38x stronger than Earth. This poses a significant threat when it comes to landing spacecraft on Mars weighing more than 1 ton.
To date, the Curiosity Rover is the heaviest object we’ve successfully landed on Mars weighing in at about 0.9 tons. For reference, a manned mission to Mars would weigh at least 36 tons according to NASA. Utilizing our current landing technologies, only 53% of Mars missions are landed successfully.
This would mean that approximately half of the humans that attempt to journey to Mars (using modern day technology) would die. Considering how much time and money we’ve invested into this cause, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Due to the weak atmosphere on Mars, state-of-the-art parachute technology would fail to fully inflate in time to decelerate a load as heavy as 36 tons; resulting in catastrophe. Similarly, the atmospheric volume is adequate enough so that utilizing methods during the Apollo missions and lunar landing strategies would be insufficient as using downward rockets would cause too much turbulence for human survival.
Solution Spotlight: NASA (HIAD) 🪂
As of late, NASA has been developing a technology called Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (or HIAD) with the goal in mind of having the capability to land heavier payloads (such as manned spacecraft) on the surface of planetary bodies such as Mars.
We previously identified that humanity lacks infrastructure and technology relating to decelerating heavier payloads when attempting to land on Mars due to a multitude of problems. HIAD directly addresses that challenge by proposing an inflatable heat-shielded shell that allows for spacecraft to slow down due to resultant drag forces and successfully land on the surface of Mars and other planetary bodies.
In addition to this, HIAD combats the weight limitations using current technology (1 ton) by using inflatable materials that can be packed into small volumes and inflate.
Problem 4: Outer Limits 🌌
200,000,000,000 (that’s billion!) galaxies call our universe their home, within these galaxies reside trillions upon trillions of planets (that we know of!) and endless possibilities of life and who knows what else?! 🤯
Mankind have only travelled as ‘far’ as the dark side of the moon. This is largely due to inefficiencies within our propulsion systems and our incapability to build anything that allows us to undergo interstellar travel with speeds that permit us to do so.
To begin with, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, we will never achieve the capability of travelling at the speed of light 🔦 due to the fact that we’d require an infinite amount of energy for that to be possible (newsflash: it’s not.) Right now, our chemical-powered propulsion systems are extremely inefficient due to the fact that an oxidizer and fuel needs to be carried on board which drastically increases the payload and the energy required to accelerate it. It’s simply not possible using chemical-powered rockets and abiding by the laws of physics… ❌
Solution Spotlight: Positron Dynamics ⚛
The solution to our ongoing propulsion challenges lay in the realm of antimatter and nuclear fusion propulsion.
Both of which are incorporated in Positron Dynamics’ solution to solving interstellar travel through more powerful propulsion. An antimatter propulsion system describes a rocket that utilizes antimatter annihilation (two subatomic particles colliding at high speeds) in order to produce a large influx of energy to provide rockets with necessary thrust. 💥
However, there are a couple fundamental problems related to using antimatter to propel us into Alpha Centauri and beyond! First, we do not have the capabilities as of yet to generate a quantity of antimatter than can prove useful to our endeavors; and even so, we have no methodology of storing this highly reactive material.
In order to overcome these problems, Positron Dynamics will leverage Krypton isotopes in order to generate positrons to catalyze nuclear fusion and as a result thrust spacecraft. They would need approximately a trillion positrons in order to trigger nuclear fusion events meaning this company still has a long way to go in order to revolutionize the propulsion industry. ⏩
Our Trip Has Come to an End… 🔚
Our journey through the history of space, how we got here, humanity’s ongoing interaction with space and what revolutionary technologies will shape our future regarding space exploration has officially come to an end. You may disembark our specialized warp drive spacecraft at your own discretion (Beware ⚠: effects of microgravity may have health risks!). In all seriousness, space has the ability to provide us with information about our origins as well as help us solve some of our greatest challenges. NASA is only given approximately 0.5% of the US national budget annually due to the poor exposure and recognition given to how monumental space exploration/technology can be. This is a problem and the goal of this article was to show the importance of humanity solving some of our greatest obstacles regarding space. 🚀
Hey! I really appreciate you taking the time to make it all the way down here. I hope you learned the significance behind why we need to give more recognition space industries and why humanity needs to work on these problems imminently. 🌌
👋I’m Amaan. A seventeen-year-old space tech enthusiast, theoretical physics researcher, writer, and aspiring entrepreneur. I have a huge passion for making a positive difference in the world through my accomplishments. 🌎
See you later,