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Question Your World: What’s the Next Step in Space Exploration?

The closest star to our solar system is Proxima Centauri, located 40 quadrillion miles away. Using today’s conventional technology it would take us about 70,000 years to get there from here. That’s just the closest star, there are still billions of stars left to explore in our galaxy alone. So, how will we truly explore space? Listen to the latest Question Your World Radio Report from the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

The study of the cosmos has continually given us new information on our place in the universe. Each major milestone from Galileo to Hubble to the Curiosity rover allows us to observe and learn more by means of our technological development. However, in the words of American poet Marvin Gaye, “there ain’t nothing like the real thing baby.” This is why the Apollo missions of the late 60s and 70s were so important. We had seen with telescopes, understood with formulas, and now it was time to actually place humans on the moon. These lunar missions were the first time humanity would spend large chunks times in space away from home. The results of which gave us that oh so famous ‘one small step.’

That actually sums up how we will truly explore space, one step at a time. Each technological advancement will yield new opportunities to take us further and further out. Regardless of how far we end up we still have to start with the first step. One of the major steps to exploring space is to learn how to live in space. The various space station projects that humanity has taken on are some of the most vital steps in understanding how we can function in those environments.

The United States launched Skylab in 1973. This was to be the first attempt at long range times spent in space-life. Astronauts conducted various experiments and research high above the Earth for up to 28 days at a time onboard Skylab. After six years of hosting humans in space, the Skylab project was abandoned and the giant station fell to Earth and littered parts of Western Australia. Litter bugs do get punished so the Skylab debris was given a fine of $400!

Skylab was one of the steps needed to learn how to build for microgravity and certainly how humans will handle life in space. These early steps paved the way to get us to where we are now.

In October of 2000 the International Space Station became a permanent manned outpost in space. Currently we have our 36th set of scientists up there. The International Space Station has been home for humans for over a decade now, so perhaps humanity is ready for the next step in space exploration? After 13 successful years, NASA has just announced the next space station project. This one’s a squeal, SKYLAB 2!!

There are not too many details on this project just yet, but the announcement of a second space station is a big deal! This 2 story tall space station will be the next step for humans living in space. We have explored near Earth orbit, so perhaps we can build on our experiences to take that next step in our cosmic journey. With that said Skylab 2 will be located near another historic step, in orbit around the moon.

The moon is a far cry from the other planets and certainly from Proxima centaur, but remember the longest journey must still start with the first step.

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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