A man stands on the deck of a ship, the waves gently rocking the vessel as the creak of timber and the wash of water against the hull fills the air with soothing sea noise. Men in the rigging joke and laugh as they furl the sails according to the first mates directions.
The man looks across the water and wonders to himself. He wonders what is out there, beyond the edge of water that he can see. Imagine if the drive to explore had not driven these people, what if Columbus never said, “What’s beyond that horizon?”
During the early 1800’s man ran and rode to the far reaches of land over the horizon to settle in the fertile lands of the west that he could attain for very cheap prices. It was called homesteading, and many people pulled up roots in very lucrative business’s and left to start over again.
Today, and I mean literally as I right this, Stephen Robinson is walking in space and trying to perform a repair on the space shuttle as it rockets around the earth at more than 17,500 miles per hour. He is going to attempt to pull or cut a space filling material out from between the heat tiles that protect the shuttle during reentry from the heat the builds due to friction.
The spacer came loose and pulled out from between the tiles and is sticking out, this has NASA specialists concerned that it may pull the tiles near it out during reentry. This is what brought down the last shuttle, Colombia during it’s landing near Texas in 2003. Some tiles were knocked loose and were missing or damaged and started a chain of events leading to the explosion of the shuttle during reentry.
A piece of insulation from the huge fuel tank that the shuttle uses for lift off caused damage to the wing tiles that are required to keep the wings cool during reentry.
The wing started to melt during the high heat of reentry and caused the shuttle to disintegrate, killing all aboard.
For the shuttle to attain it’s altitude of orbit around 390 kilometers above the earth it needs boost from earth and uses two solid boosters, and the main engines on board the shuttle at attain these speeds and it’s orbit. The shuttle has to reach speeds above 17,500 mph in order to escape earths orbit and reach space, and has to maintain this speed in order to not be pulled back to earth due to gravity. The speed can be maintain by simple physics, not so simple a machine but the whole concept is that the shuttle, once going that fast, will continue to speed along until something opposes it’s force of forward movement.
Inside the earths atmosphere the force that would slow the shuttle would be friction, from the surrounding air and if it is on the ground the tires against the ground will also add to the friction. In space there is no air friction so the shuttle speeds along at the same rate and continues to remain in space. In order for the shuttle to start it’s descent back to earth, it just has to slow down.
But they can’t just put on the brakes any which way and just fall. They must do it with the shuttle in the correct attitude so that the ship comes into the atmosphere with the belly pointing toward the planet and the nose forward in it’s path of flight.
The recent events with the shuttle has brought about a whole new batch of controversy of why the need for space flight and why we need to spend the billions on something that only benefit’s a few that get the privilege of space flight. I would love to go into space and do the things these lucky but hard working and dedicated people are doing. I was in the Air Force and technically, if I worked hard and minded my P’s and Q’s, I could have chosen a career that could have gotten me into space.
I did not, and I watch as people say things like why spend money on something as stupid as space exploration. That is like telling Columbus he could not sail across the sea because it cost the Crown Jewels. The woman who gave him the capitol to start his voyage saw the dream he had and had the forethought to see the benefits of exploring just over the next hill.
If we do not continue to explore and reach farther we will be stuck on this planet and bound to stay here, continuing to use up the natural resources until nothing is left. This will of course take time to occur, but eventually, we will run out of the things like coal, oil, steel and all the other resources we depend on that is on our planet. I fear that we will never see that day though, with overcrowding comes things that will alleviate it. We as humans have expanded and grown to cover the planet.
Think back to a time years ago when only the buffalo roamed across the North American continent and a few tribes of Indians were the only inhabitants. Now the country boasts around 260 million people, compare this to 4 million people in the 1790’s. This shows that earths population is growing at an alarming rate. Soon, not this year or even this century, we will run out of things to feed and house the earths inhabitants.
We need elbow room, that is where space and exploration comes in. When the inhabitants of Europe wanted more breathing room, whether political , religious or just less neighbors, they moved on over the next hill until they came to a place that had no people or a lot less and moved in. Nowadays we have to go a lot further but we are still doing it. That is what the push is all about.
Yes, it is also about discovery, exploring always brings about discovery. But to just do things to find out new facts and see new sights is not enough to spend billions of our peoples money. The space program is founding a base of knowledge for future generations to be able to boost from earths gravity and head across the void of space and to new planets. Colonization is inevitable given our expansion on earth.
Either that or we will create our own solution in the form of war, famine, disease or population control. This will only be a temporary solution though. I am not talking about things that are intentional or planned. War and famine are not things that we want or even need, but it does slow the growth and kills off people to bring the population down on the planet.
We should not bring on more wars and continue to allow people to starve. I am not trying to say that I like or condone war or famine. I volunteer and give to my church that helps people in other countries. I try to help in ways that I can and I hope that you do too. I am trying to say that these types of things will happen if we do not do something about it, eventually.
Imagine a scene from a novel by my favorite author, Robert Heinlein. A moon with tunnels and farms growing wheat, that wheat sitting inside containers, tons of it, waiting to be rocketed to earth. Where millions will eat after is arrives safely at splash down from the push into orbit and safe reentry into the atmosphere by the rockets or magnetic guns or whatever new scientific method propels the containers off the moon and back to earth.
A simple to say and dream about deal, but to put it into practice that will work and be safe is what the men and women are doing right now in space. Exploring, experimenting and striving human knowledge to bring about the eventual drive into space that we will someday be doing. Exploring planets such as Mars and beyond, we will be going.
The news came on during the morning show and Stephen Robinson successfully pulled both spacers out of the heat tile covered bottom of the shuttle using his fingers. He did not have to resort to the high tech and sophisticated tools the shuttle crew brought along with them of forceps or hacksaw.
This just goes to show no matter how much preparation and training you do, the simplest thing can be the best solution to a problem. I am glad to see it went so well and was so easy. Many things in the military never went as easily and I continue to see this happen in other parts of the government.
I can see a time, in my lifetime, when man will launch from earth in a ship not much different, or maybe even exactly like Space Ship One from Scaled Composites. The ship will of course be larger and will be able to accommodate more people. I can even see very soon, men and women going to the International Space Station from this companies great new project.
Many people have caught the bug and have been striving to become the first to reach space on their own, without the governments help. Scaled Composites did just that with a newly designed ship that reached the orbit of earth and space on October 4, 2004 for the second time. They did this not to win the Ansari X-prize of ten million dollars, but to reach space and see for themselves what it was like. The money would not put a dent into the bill for the ship and all the research that occurred to pay for it.
They did it for the same reason a man sailed across the ocean, to reach that horizon and go beyond. We continue to strive to better ourselves, to make things around us more comfortable, more easy and better. We want to see others not suffer and we will do many things to help others as we help ourselves.
That is why people explore, to make the world a better place and to expand our horizons, so that future generations will have the space to grow p and live a decent life. We do not do it so a few can see the things others wish they could.
We push over that hill so that some day others can have a life that is free of want and full of life.