Why Earthlings strive to be in outer spaceApril 3, 2018
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is seen at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. It will travel closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft in history as it attempts to help researchers better understand stars throughout the universe. Photo: AP
Mumbai:Outer space has always held a fascination for earthlings and scientists alike, whether it’s landing on the Moon, aspiring to live on Mars, creating a space nation called Asgardia, or simply having your name emblazoned on the Sun.
For instance, if you would like to have your name on the Sun, all you need to do is sign up on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) website by 27 April. The space organisation touts this as the “hottest ticket” on Earth this summer.
Once you sign up, you get a certificate which tells you that this ticket will include your name on a memory card that will fly aboard the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, which is the size of a small car. Consequently, you will joining the ranks of people like William Shatner—a cultural icon for his portrayal of Capt. James T. Kirk in the original “Star Trek” TV series—who have signed up.
The aim of this mission, according to NASA, is to “unlock the mysteries of the corona…(and) provide new data on solar activity and make critical contributions to our ability to forecast major space-weather events that impact life on Earth”. The reason: We live in the Sun’s atmosphere but do not understand everything about it such as why the corona is unstable, why do we have solar winds or magnetized material eruptions, or why the corona is hotter than the surface of the Sun itself.
NASA also hopes this mission will help humans improve satellite communications, power grid issues, pipeline erosion, radiation exposure on airline flights and astronaut safety.
To be launched anytime between 31 July and 19 August this year, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Parker will swoop to within 4 million miles from the sun’s surface.
The Parker Solar Probe will use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to gradually shrink its orbit around the sun, “well within the orbit of Mercury and about eight times closer than any spacecraft has come before”, according to the website. At closest approach, the Parker Solar Probe will be hurtling around the sun at approximately 450,000 miles per hour—fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in one second.
The spacecraft will come as close as 6.2 million kilometers to the Sun. The spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the Sun’s heat by a 4.5 inch thick carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft. At its closest approach to the sun, while the front of Parker Solar Probe’s solar shield faces temperatures approaching 1,400 degrees Celsius, the spacecraft’s payload will be near room temperature, according to NASA.
This is the first NASA mission that has been named for a living individual, Eugene Parker—the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago.
Born on 10 June, 1927, in Michigan, Parker has held faculty positions at the University of Chicago and at its Fermi Institute. Other than proposing how stars (including the Sun) emit energy—a phenomenon he called the solar wind, he described an entire complex system of plasmas, magnetic fields, and energetic particles that make up this phenomenon. Parker also theorized an explanation for the superheated solar atmosphere, the corona. More than half a century later, the Parker Solar Probe mission is expected to provide observations on Parker’s groundbreaking theories and ideas.
Elsewhere, a group of scientists and space experts based out of Russia, Romania, Canada and the US now want to make this myth a reality by offering Earthlings an opportunity to be part of a nation they have christened ‘Asgardia’. The are over 11,000 applications from India alone with more than 5,000 from metros like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata till date. People from China have sent the most applications, followed by the US and Turkey.
Registration on the Asgardia website (asgardia.space), founded by the self-proclaimed Father of Asgardia—Igor Ashurbeyli who is also a businessman, scientist and founder of the Aerospace International Research Center in Vienna, will make you a part of the Asgardia community. However, Asgardia is not offering official citizenship because it is yet to be officially recognized as a nation. Once you are a citizen, you will get a passport like in any country.
Meanwhile, there are those who dare to aspire to fly to, and later even live on, Mars. For instance, the first round of the Mars One Astronaut selection programme, launched in 2013, received interest from 202,586 people from around the world wanting to be among the first human settlers on Mars. About 10% applications were from India. Mars One is currently preparing for Round Three and Four.
Since Mars One’s launch in 2011, about $1 million has been raised, mainly through donations, sales of merchandise, private investments, astronaut applications, sponsorships & partnerships, and speaking engagements.
In 2023, one team will make it as the first humans to ever to land on Mars and live there for the rest of their lives. It’s a one-way ticket, at least for now, given that this team can get stuck, or even die, on the red planet. This, even as these humans will face major issues such as space radiation, dust storms, lower gravity pull that can weaken their bones, likely infection from unknown microbes, and the effect of loneliness on the mind.
The human body is not made for Mars, which lacks an atmosphere to begin with. The gases in human cells could heat up and render us apart. That’s if the cosmic rays do not kill us with cancer by then since human beings won’t have much of a magnetic field to shield them from the rays.
To be sure, scientists are also building faster and stronger spacecraft and working on space suits that will be less cumbersome to walk in and can carry enough air pressure (one-third, typically) to prevent human beings from expanding and dying in space. Food, too, is being preserved in labs for years, and it remains edible and tasty.
The fact is that much can change by 2023; so, one can only watch this space for further developments.