TIME world affairs

No More Space ‘Race’

space-shuttle-NASA
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Next stage of space exploration is becoming a worldwide project

Ellen Stofan, NASA’s chief scientist, saw her first rocket launch at age 4. Her father worked at NASA as an engineer, and the thrill of space exploration captured her imagination from an early age. But at a Future Tense film screening of The Dish in Washington D.C. last week, Stofan acknowledged that for many people she meets, what first a sparked a space obsession was the Apollo program—President John F. Kennedy’s audacious commitment in 1961 to putting Americans on the moon before the end of the decade.

Today, NASA’s goal to put astronauts on Mars by the 2030s could be a similarly unifying project. And not only in the United States. A far cry from the fierce Cold War Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, exploration in the 21st century is likely to be a far more globally collaborative project.

Why has the idea of reaching Mars captured the world? A trip to Mars is a priority for many scientific reasons—some believe it’s the planet that most resembles our own, and one that could answer the age-old question of whether we’re alone in the universe—but there’s also been a long popular fascination with the planet, Stofan observed. Ever since Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli first observed the canali on Mars in the 1800s or when H.G. Wells wrote about aliens from Mars in his 1898 science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds, the planet has loomed large in the public’s imagination.

And perhaps it’s this historic obsession that partly explains the more international effort: the U.S. is hardly the only country dreaming of deep space – and a trip to Mars– these days. India has plans to put astronauts in the sky, Japan just launched a spacecraft to collect asteroid samples, and of course, the European Space Agency had the recent, hugely successful Rosetta mission and Philae lander. It seems that what Apollo did for America’s imagination and spirit of invention, foreign space programs can also do domestically. “You see countries like India really investing in their space program because they see it as inspirational and good for their economy,” Stofan told the audience.

The truth is, as Stofan put it, “When we go to explore, we do it as a globe.” In a conversation outside the event, she recounted the stories of some of the astronauts featured in the 2007 documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon, who travelled the world after they returned from the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 70s. People from all sorts of countries welcomed them, not just as Americans, but as “our astronauts”.

“People see space as a place where you go and cooperate,” she told me.

This spirit of trans-border ownership and investment seems set to continue. One key part of this is the Global Exploration Roadmap, an effort between space agencies like NASA, France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, among many others, that is intended to aid joint projects from the International Space Station to expeditions to the Moon and near-Earth asteroids – and of course, to reach Mars. On a recent trip to India’s space agency, Stofan recounted to me, she met with many Indian engineers who were just as excited as the Americans to get scientists up there, not only to explore, but also to begin nailing down the question of whether there was ever life on the red planet.

It’s also clear that the next stage of space exploration will not only be more global, but will equally involve greater private and public partnerships. Companies like Space X and Boeing are increasingly involved in NASA’s day to day operations, including a joint project that could carry astronauts into space in 2017. NASA’s view is to turn over to the private sector those projects that in a sense have become routine, Stofan suggested, and let NASA focus its resources on getting to Mars.

This environment feels a lot different from the secretive and adversarial Space Race days, when the U.S. and Soviet Union battled to reach the moon first. What’s changed? The Cold War is over, of course, but with it, the funding commitment may also be missing this time around. Stofan mentioned, in response to an audience question, that at the time of the Apollo missions, NASA got up to about 4% of the federal budget, while now it’s only around 0.4%. The dollars are still large, of course, but perhaps increased international and private cooperation can be seen as an efficient, clever way to do more with less.

So, what does the future hold? NASA is extremely focused on how to get to Mars and back again safely, Stofan told the audience, but the fun role of science fiction, she suggested, is to start envisioning what the steps after that might be. For example, what it might be like to live on Mars? After all, science often gets its inspiration from the creative world. Just look at how similar mobile phones are to the communicators from Star Trek, she pointed out, or the fact that MIT students made a real life version of the robotic sphere that Luke Skywalker trains with in Star Wars. “Stories are a great counterpoint to science.”

What would Stofan like to see on the big screen next? “The Martian. I think it’s being made into a movie in already. And I wish someone would redo The Dune.”

Ariel Bogle is an associate editor for the Future Tense program, a joint collaboration between the New America Foundation, the online magazine Slate, and Arizona State University. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

Orion Successfully Completes Space Mission

After three postponements Thursday

The Orion spacecraft successfully touched down in the Pacific Ocean Friday morning, 4.5 hours after launching into space.

NASA had called off three successive countdowns on Thursday in the wake of wind gusts and valve problems with the vessel, but the mission went off as planned Friday.

“There’s your new spacecraft, America,” Mission Control commentator Rob Navias said moments before the Orion capsule landed in the water, the AP reports.

The experimental craft orbited the Earth twice and traveled a distance of 3,600 miles into space before the landing. The Orion project is a Lockheed Martin and Boeing joint venture that undertakes commercial and U.S. government launches.

“The flight is designed to test many of the most vital elements for human spaceflight and will provide critical data needed to improve Orion’s design and reduce risks to future mission crews,” read a NASA statement.

TIME space

NASA Orion Launch Postponed Till Friday

NASA hopes the spacecraft will make it to Mars one day

A series of problems forced NASA to delay a planned launch of its its new Orion spacecraft on Thursday.

The next launch attempt is slated for Friday at 7:05 a.m. ET.

The launch, an early step in NASA’s mission to send people to Mars, was set to begin at 7:05 a.m. ET on Thursday but was delayed multiple times for a variety of reasons, including a boat in the area and valve trouble on the core booster. Thursday’s launch window closed at 9:44 a.m. ET.

The un-crewed Orion is intended to orbit 3,600 miles above Earth before it finally crashes into the Pacific Ocean. It will measure the effects of high radiation zones on the spacecraft, which has a heat shield to withstand massive temperatures when it speeds into the atmosphere at 20,000 mph, before finally hitting the ocean.

There will be more test-runs to come for Orion, a vessel that NASA hopes will ultimately take astronauts into new places–maybe even Mars.

TIME space

A History of the Orion Spacecraft in Pictures

The un-crewed Orion is intended to orbit 3,600 miles above Earth before it finally crashes into the Pacific Ocean. NASA hopes the spacecraft will ultimately take astronauts into new places–maybe even Mars.

TIME Japan

Japanese Space Explorer to Blow Crater in Asteroid

Japan Space Exploration
An H2-A rocket carrying space explorer Hayabusa2 lifts off from a launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan, on Dec. 3, 2014 AP Photo/Kyodo News

The explorer will hide behind the asteroid during the blast and will then try to collect material from inside the crater

(TOKYO) — A Japanese space explorer took off Wednesday on a six-year journey to blow a crater in a remote asteroid and bring back rock samples in hopes of gathering clues to the origin of earth.

The explorer, named Hayabusa2, is expected to reach the asteroid in mid-2018, spend about 18 months studying it and return in late 2020.

A small device will separate from the explorer and shoot a projectile to blast open a crater a few meters (several feet) in diameter. The explorer, which will hide behind the asteroid during the blast, will then try to collect material from inside the crater.

Asteroids can provide evidence not available on earth about the birth of the solar system and its evolution. JAXA, Japan’s space agency, said the research could help explain the origin of seawater and how the planet earth was formed.

Hayabusa2 will attempt to expand on the work of Hayabusa, a previous explorer that returned in 2010 after collecting material from the surface of another asteroid. By reaching inside an asteroid this time, the new explorer may recover material that is not as weathered by the space environment and heat.

The earlier mission was plagued by mechanical failures and other problems. JAXA hopes improvements since then will make this trip smoother.

“The mission was completed one way or another, but we stumbled along the way,” said Akitaka Kishi from JAXA’s lunar and planetary exploration program. “To travel there and bring back something is extremely difficult.”

Hayabusa2, which was launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, is a rectangular unit with two sets of solar panels sticking out from its sides. The main unit measures 1 x 1.6 x 1.4 meters (3.3 x 5.2 x 4.6 feet) and weighs about 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds).

TIME space

Celebrate Philae’s Comet Landing With These 3 Mesmerizing Music Videos

Time for a victory dance

To celebrate the successful touchdown Wednesday of its Philae lander on Comet 67P, the European Space Agency released these three music videos inspired by the decade-long mission and scored by Greek composer Vangelis. The videos show an entrancing artist’s rendition of Comet 67P “dancing” in space, as well as an animation of Philae’s journey to the comet on the Rosetta spacecraft.

Philae will remain on the comet’s surface as it approaches the sun and will relay data back to Rosetta as it continues to orbit 67P. The mission is expected to end in December 2015.

“Philae’s Journey”

“Arrival”

TIME space

See Pictures of Philae Detaching From Rosetta

Philae as seen from Rosetta
The Philae lander shortly after separation from Rosetta, on Nov. 12, 2014. ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA/EPA

Space probe landed on a speeding comet for the first time ever

A space probe landed on a speeding comet for the first time ever on Wednesday morning. More than a decade ago, Rosetta and a lander called Philae set off to find the commit 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The European Space Agency’s Philae lander separated from the Rosetta orbiter at 09:03 GMT on Tuesday and touched down on the speeding comet around 4:00 GMT.

Scientists hope that exploring the comet will answer questions about how planets are formed.

TIME Science

Buzz Aldrin: Pioneers Will Always Pave the Way With Sacrifice

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Crashes During Test Flight In Mojave Desert
Sheriff's deputies inspect the wreckage of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 in a desert field November 2, 2014 north of Mojave, California on The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2 crashed on October 31, 2014 during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another. Sandy Huffaker—Getty Images

Dr. Buzz Aldrin served as lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission.

That first human landing on the moon—a small step for mankind—was about taking risks to reap great rewards. Today, more steps are needed

Pioneering the space frontier is a perilous business.

That was recently underscored by the catastrophic breakup of the commercial Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo and the loss of one of its two pilots in testing the vehicle.

My career as an aircraft pilot and astronaut has been punctuated by both risk-taking and the loss of several close colleagues. The Apollo 1 fire in January 1967 claimed my good friends Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in a launch pad training exercise.

And it was Gus who had earlier voiced his view of the perils associated with pushing the boundaries of curiosity and exploration:

If we die, we want people to accept it. We’re in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.

We also cannot forget the lost crews of America’s Challenger and Columbia space-shuttle orbiters and the deaths of several cosmonauts of the former Soviet Union. They all were forging our future in space.

Unfortunately, pioneers will always pave the way with sacrifices.

Every type of transportation has involved loss of life, as witnessed with the Conestoga wagon heading west and giving way to the stagecoach, the railroads, motor homes and eventually airplanes.

Indeed, airlines came into existence because of the commercial use of World War I aircraft, put to work to carry mail for the government. That convinced the commercial sector to develop the airlines of today.

Now we are contemplating point-to-point and suborbital rocket flight, a distinctly commercial stepping stone from the pioneering days of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo’s giant leap to the moon.

The future is about wings and wheels and new forms of space transportation, along with our deep-space ambition to set foot on another world in our solar system: Mars.

I firmly believe we will establish permanence on that planet. And in reaching for that goal, we can cultivate commercial development of the moon, the asteroid belt, the Red Planet itself and beyond. Following that trajectory means returning with scientific knowledge, sharpening our space know-how and utilizing celestial resources that improve the lives of all here on Earth.

We need to look forward to countries around the globe following our lead and establishing a rotating permanence on Mars for science and commercial resources.

Some 45 years ago, when Neil Armstrong and I stepped upon the surface of the moon at Tranquility Base, we fulfilled a dream held by humankind for centuries. Yes, it was one small step. Today, more steps are needed.

Apollo 11 was rooted in exploration. That first human landing on the moon was about taking risks to reap great rewards in science and engineering. It was about setting an ambitious goal, anchored in political will and staying power. And it was about harnessing industry — big and small — fueled by talented teams of individuals working together to attain a common objective.

To go back to the recent SpaceShipTwo tragedy, I echo the sentiment voiced by my good friend Richard Branson, an adventurous entrepreneur and the leader of Virgin Galactic: “I truly believe that humanity’s greatest achievements,” he said, “come out of our greatest pain.”

Those space pioneers that are no longer with us were hungry to serve, and they served all of us here residing on our tiny niche of the huge universe.

There’s no doubt that there will be many trials and tribulations along the way in taming space for the benefit of all, unmasking its truths and using the boundless resources available to us. Taking a chance allows us to seek new horizons — and we all benefit from being horizon hunters.

Dr. Buzz Aldrin served as lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission. He is the author of eight books, including his New York Times best selling autobiography Magnificent Desolation. His newest book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration, was published in 2013. As one of the leading space exploration advocates, Buzz continues to chart a course for future space travel. He is an unpaid advisory board member for XCOR Space Expeditions.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME space

See the Stunning New Portrait of Mars from India’s MOM Spacecraft

Mars photographed by the ISRO Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft on Sept. 30, 2014.
Mars photographed by the ISRO Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft on Sept. 30, 2014. ISRO—AFP/Getty Images

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), which began orbiting the Red Planet on Sept. 23, has already sent back a stunning new portrait of Mars. The image taken Sept. 28 shows the beginnings of a dust storm on the surface of the planet and was taken by the Mars Color Camera aboard the spacecraft. The Mars Orbiter will be collecting images and other data from the planet’s surface and atmosphere using five sensors, four of which have already been switched on.

This data will be shared with NASA, according to an agreement signed on Sept. 30 between the two agencies to collaborate on Mars exploration. NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft entered Mars’s orbit just two days ahead of MOM, and will be able to receive data from Opportunity and Curiosity rovers on the planet’s surface.

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