Space Age: Past, Present and Possible Futures

José Bezerra Pessoa Filho

Abstract


Since Gagarin’s flight on April 12th, 1961, the dream of making human space flight routine and making Homo sapiens a multiplanetary species seemed to have become closer to reality. Nonetheless, on average less than 10 human flights a year have happened along the past 60 years. Unmanned spacecrafts, on the other hand, have changed the way the human race sees itself and the universe it is surrounded by. They have explored all planets in the solar system, as well as comets, asteroids and the Sun. Presently, there are four unmanned spacecrafts on Mars’ surface and eight satellites in its orbit. Since the launching of Sputnik in 1957, more than 11,000 satellites have been sent into Earth’s orbit. Nowadays, it is impossible to imagine life on Earth without the services provided by the space-based infrastructure resulting from the Space Age. They have changed the modus vivendi of the human civilization and become a commodity, like potable water and electricity. The so-called satellite industry generates around US$ 300 billion a year, mostly related to the sale of satellite services and ground equipment. The era of exponential growth and disruption has reached Earth’s orbit, and beyond, through the minds, initiatives and boldness of the NewSpace generation, from which Elon Musk is its exponent. Twenty-five thousand satellites are expected to be launched in the next 10 years to provide, among other applications, worldwide broadband internet access. The scientific community and the military, however, have already expressed their concerns regarding space debris and, as a consequence, space sustainability. For the scientific community, the long-waited launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) promises to be the 2021 main event. In a time in which Spaceship Earth faces so many challenges, the dream of making its dwellers a multiplanetary species got a revival trough the minds and actions of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. There are those who, through public-private partnerships, intend to establish a 1,000 people community working and living in space by 2045. Cooperation among nations has been usual in space, but they are still shy when compared to the efforts required to colonize the Moon, Mars and other places in the solar system. As the 21st century advances, Spaceship Earth faces its greatest challenge ever. Space-based assets provide all the tools required to monitor Earth’s health, but if the human species intends to survive as the only identified intelligent civilization, it will have to think and act united in a truly cooperative way. Otherwise, the civilizational and technological effort hitherto undertaken may prove to be useless.

Keywords


: Golden Rush; Space Colonization; Space debris; Defense and space; New space; Space 3.0

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