9 years ago, my favorite movie director, Christopher Nolan made a movie, Interstellar. Where on a big screen, we visited other planets of the universe. Planets where waves are bigger than mountains, strange terrains, black holes, and their secrets too.
Whenever I read a space documentary, I read about the missions of ISRO, or see such mind-blowing images of NASA’s James Webb Telescope, so I ask myself a question, when will we be able to travel in space?
Let us explore the possibilities in today’s documentary. Let’s think if it is possible to travel in space in our lifetime or not. Can we travel in space?
The question is quite easy, but quite complex too. So let’s divide this question into three small and logical questions. First question, how fast can we travel? Second question, how do we want to go? Third question, what do we do when we get there?
How fast can we travel?
On 20th July 1969, something happened that changed the way we look at space Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two humans in the world, to set foot on the moon.
Whenever we see such 3D images or videos of the Earth and the moon, it seems that the moon is not that far from us, but what is the reality? Well, the truth is that there is so much distance between the Earth and the moon that you can easily fit all the planets of our solar system. The moon is very far. Let’s see the fastest object made by humans.
Space Facts 💡Do you know NASA reached the Moon when it had less processing power than our smartphones? Today, technology has reached so far ahead as compared to old-time technology.
Parker Solar Probe
A rifle’s bullet travels at 2,700 km/h but the Parker Solar Probe runs at 6,90,000 km/h. Imagine, this probe, at this speed, will take only 3 minutes to circle our Earth. Here, we get the answer to our first question.
How did this probe reach this speed?
What kind of fuel did it use? The answer is gravity. This spacecraft passes near Venus. As soon as it approaches Venus, because of the gravity of Venus, it immediately pushes towards Venus. At that moment, it changes its direction.
This is called the gravity assist maneuver. Gravity, that is, the same thing that keeps us connected to the Earth helps us achieve faster speeds in space.
How long it will take to reach the nearest star?
The Proxima Centauri is 4 light-years away from the Earth. It is the nearest star outside our solar system. A light year is a unit to measure large distances.
Basically, a photon is the quickest object in the world. Nothing can travel faster than light. The distance that light may travel in the vacuum of space in 1 year is called 1 light year.
Like Proxima Centauri star is 4 light years away from us. If we were to travel interstellar, we have to at least reach this star. If Parker Solar Probe keeps its full speed forever, it will take 6,596 years to reach Proxima Centauri.
It means if we launch this probe today 2024, by the time it reaches our closest star, it will be year 8620. The fun aspect is that this solar probe is an unmanned probe. That means there is no human in it. The ships that carry humanity are huge. There are more complexities in them and most importantly, their speeds are rather low.
Space is empty here, despite having hundreds of billions of planets, stars, and moons, the interstellar space between two stars is essentially empty, there is only darkness in between. To survive for 6,000 years, we need a space city, not a spaceship.
Where astronauts will have to make a family, get married, and have children. They have to raise those kids and train them to become astronauts. This chain of events will continue for generations. Then we will finish the journey of 6,000 years and reach our closest star Proxima Centauri.
What will we do after reaching there?
Let’s move on to the second question. Today, we have discovered more than 5,000 exoplanets. Exoplanets means those planets that are outside our solar system.
Our Earth’s distance from the Sun is ideal for water to form. And where water can be in liquid form, there can be life. By the same logic, out of 5,000 exoplanets, NASA has identified some 59 habitable exoplanets.
Habitable, means, they come in their star’s Goldilocks zone like the earth does. It can be that such planets will be our future dream destination. Or maybe there is already alien life on such planets.
The closest habitable exoplanet to us is 12 light-years away from our Earth. Means to get there, even with today’s most advanced technology it will take us almost 20,000 years.
What is the Right time for a long Space Journey
If we have to leave our solar system and go on a long voyage, then when should we go? This confusion is called a walk-wait paradox.
Imagine, if you are standing at a bus stop and no bus arrives for a long time. Then should you start walking towards your destination or wait for the bus? You started walking and if the bus arrived then? It will overtake you. So what is the point of walking? Instead, better wait for it.
Every year, technology advances. If with today’s technology, a ship carries a lot of frozen embryos and leaves for a 12-light-year journey, and tomorrow if our technology advances more, and we are able to travel at more speed, then we will move ahead leaving this ship behind. So, what is the point of setting the first ship to sail?
Vision of Elon Musk
Elon Musk is a visionary. He wants to take us humans to interstellar. Optimism is something that almost no one possesses. However, not even he thinks interstellar travel is within our lifetime. But we can take some steps to become interstellar species.
Our solar system is quite big and it has many secrets. We can explore them. Attacks on Mars using nuclear weapons will be the initial technological step. Yes, you heard it right.
Elon Musk thinks a nuclear strike on Mars is necessary. So that we may artificially raise Mars’ temperature and make the red planet habitable. From that point on, all of our missions begin. This process is called terraforming. Where by changing the composition of an entire planet it can be made habitable.
The asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter in that asteroid belt, there are a lot of metals hidden in it. They can be mined and brought to Mars. From there, construction of spacecraft can begin. This is Elon’s belief.
Why is this important?
Let me explain with an example. Getting from Earth’s surface to Earth’s orbit requires the same amount of fuel as getting to Mars, which is 290 million kilometers away from Earth’s orbit. So, let’s pretend a spaceship needs to journey from Earth to Mars. That is, every time we spend maximum energy only for the first 400 kilometers.
But if we do not have to take this journey again and again, then our energy expenditure will be greatly reduced. It is for this reason that the International Space Station is being constructed.
Eventually, such outposts will be constructed. And instead of launching the rocket from Earth, we will launch it from such a planet where the gravity is less than Earth.
What do we do when we get there?
The objective of Space Travel
Now coming to our last and most important question, What is the objective of space travel?
A few years ago, we saw millionaires like Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson getting out of space. Famous scientist Stephen Hawking has also been to space. That is, in today’s day, even without being an astronaut, some VIPs, and some very wealthy individuals can go to space.
If we keep the dream of landing on any planet a bit away, then space travel is possible. But it is worth a thought that if space or the earth is to be seen just through glass, then what is the need to fly to space for that? There are YouTube videos for that.
The main attraction here is to feel weightless. As if there is no gravity. Do we need to go to space even for the feeling of weightless? The answer is no.
If the purpose of space exploration is just to touch other stars, then we do not need to even leave outside our homes. Just need to touch yourself.
Space fact 💡Do you know the oxygen in our lungs, the carbon in our muscles, the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood, all of these are formed in a star during the formation of universe. Only hydrogen and helium were formed in the Big Bang.
All the other greater elements were born in a star. Then when that star exploded, these elements traveled around and came to Earth. Today they are part of your body. You do not need to become an interstellar traveler.
You are already the outcome of an interstellar voyage. You are literally stardust. Space is fascinating. Space is scary. Space is overwhelming. Space is beautiful.
At the beginning of the paragraphs, we talked about Parker Space Probe. In today’s time, this is the fastest man-made object we have made.
Voyager 1 is the second fastest man-made object, which was launched on 5th September 1977. The initial plan was to pass through Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 1 Will send important data to NASA. But then later it was left on an interstellar trip.
In 2012, it left Pluto behind and entered interstellar space. Today it is 23 billion kilometers away from us. It took 45 years to reach this far.
On February 14th, 1990, Voyager 1 Space Probe captured a photo of space. Can you see this small dot?
This is us. This is our Earth. These are all our countries. These are all our civilizations. These are all our conflicts. These are all our religions. This is us.
Also Read The International Space Station
When we look at our world from 6 billion km away, we understand that all those things that we consider important today, for which we laugh, for which we cry, for which we get angry, all those are just a small things for this whole universe.
All your problems, all your sorrows, and pains, are just this much.
Personally, when I find any issue very huge, I look at this photograph. When we look at our world by walking two steps aside from ourselves, then our universe starts becoming smaller, and so does our ego.
When the confidence is low, remind yourself that you are stardust. And when you become overconfident, remind yourself that you are dust.