In a new study, researchers led by Jonathan H. Jiang, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, investigate what humans can achieve over the next few centuries when it comes to space exploration. The results show that manned missions to moons like Titan and Enceladus will be within our resources and capabilities by the end of the 21st century, and that missions to other star systems could become a reality by the end of the 21st century.
To that end, the authors have predicted some of the earliest launch dates for the first manned missions to places in the solar system and beyond. Then they created a model with empirical data from space exploration, as well as computational power during the early decades of the space age, the beginning of which was marked by the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 in 1957. As a result, they got some interesting estimates.
For the authors, the first settlements on Mars could be established by the end of 2020. Manned missions could occur there, for some selected objects from the asteroid belt and even toward the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, before the end of this. century. As early as the 23rd century, we can trace interstellar mission launches destined for exoplanets as far as 40 light-years away. It will be possible to send missions to the stars, which are located half the distance from the center of the Milky Way, from the end of the twenty-fourth century.
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Pay is the challenge
To reach their destinations, the crew of these missions will have to travel in vehicles with propulsion systems that allow them to reach or at least get close to the speed of light. Without the revolutionary inventions in propulsive engineering, the authors note, human travel – and any subsequent colonization – to interstellar destinations would be highly unlikely.
It is a theory formulated by economist Robin Hanson in 1996, who suggested that there must be something nonliving that prevents matter from coming together to form living organisms through spontaneous generation, and from reaching a certain level of development. Thus, life in the universe is doomed to extinction due to various factors, such as epidemics, climate change, nuclear wars and many other dangers that probably explain why we have not yet found intelligent life outside the universe – although this is statistically likely to happen.
Thus, the authors suggest that humans entered a “window of danger” at the end of World War II due to the development and use of the first nuclear weapons. So they believe the only way to safely close that window is to become an interplanetary species to ensure our long-term survival. They warn that “a program of aggressive and sustainable space exploration, including colonization, is critical to the long-term survival of humankind.”
The article with the results of the study is available at arXiv online repositoryNo peer review.
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