TORONTO – Audiences around the world have been wowed by director Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, but many don’t realize that, in three weeks’ time, humans are taking a tiny step to making travel into deep space a reality.
But on Dec. 4, the Orion spacecraft will undergo its first test flight that will eventually take humans into space on an asteroid mission or to Mars. It’s pretty cool when you think that we may be witnessing the rebirth of deep-space travel.
1. First of its kind since Apollo test in 1966
The Orion spacecraft looks a heck of a lot like the Apollo spacecraft that took humans to the moon. While the shape is the same, it is 40 per cent larger and able to take four astronauts, one more than in Apollo.
2. It’s been 42 years since humans left Earth’s orbit and this paves the way
Everyone remembers July 20, 1969, as the date that humans first walked on the moon, but few know when humans last set foot on our nearest neighbour. Since Dec. 14, 1972, humans have yet to reach out beyond Earth.
After we reached the moon, there were dreams of space stations and space flight and journeys to Mars. It never materialized, but this test flight is a baby step in getting us back on the path we set out on so long ago.
3. We are witnessing history in the making
This generation hasn’t had much hope in heading out to space. This first launch may create a glimmer of hope for those who thought that the exploration of space was something that would be left to robots.
4. Science fiction is one step closer to becoming a reality
Though Interstellar may have been set in a far off future where we have come to better understand wormholes and black holes, it shows humans desire to reach out beyond Earth. We may not be travelling to other worlds, but we may be able to colonize the moon and Mars (keep in mind, current scientific knowledge says that we cannot travel at the speed of light which pretty much nixes any trips to neighbouring solar systems). Or maybe we will be able to mine asteroids for minerals that we are running out of here at home.
5. It will help us understand what we need to do in the future
Space travel is no easy feat, as we saw with the loss of both Orbital Sciences Antares rocket and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.
Nearby onlookers flee following rocket explosion
Basically, the more we do, the better we get at it. So with Orion’s launch, we reduce chances of failure.
As well, Orion’s travel of 5,800 kms from the safety of Earth’s atmosphere will tell us what the effects of space travel may be. There is a lot of solar and cosmic radiation that can harm both computers and humans.
With the historic landing of Philae on a comet and setting humankind on a path that takes us to deep space, these are certainly exciting times.