Traveling the Outer Planets


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The science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, has included the themes of interplanetary travel in many of his books. Song of the Distant Earth tells the tale of Earth has having been abandoned sometime ago. The first person to write of space travel as reality was Jules Verne, then came H.G. Wells of interplanetary space travel from Martians in The War of the Worlds. During the last forty years, Gene Roddenberry, pushed beyond the boundaries of interplanetary travel as an event and placed it as a mere routine journey to the stars.

If a spacecraft were traveling at 100 km per hour, it would close to sixty years to reach Mars, but rockets travel faster than 100 km per hour. Voyager probes traveled at 52,000 km per hour, but this speed would still require a great deal of time. Today's probes are being used to test the technologies needed for the future trip to an outer planet with experimenting in growing crops for food and the effects of living in space for longer periods of time.

For a Mars colony, it would be necessary to produce the fuel needed for the returning trip home. There was a suggestion of exporting a fuel manufacturing plant from Earth to the planet Mars. This would involve compressing carbon dioxide from Mars's atmosphere and combining it with hydrogen. The hydrogen would come from Earth, and the combining would create water and methane. The water would then be split to create hydrogen and oxygen. The methane and oxygen would be used as the fuel and oxygen needed for the return trip to Earth.

Growing crops is not only important as a food resource, but green is said to enhance mental well-being. Colonist would be dealing with many stressors and it is thought the green could lessen the stress. The Mir space station attempted growing crops, but for interplanetary travel, it would be a necessity to grow crops to supply people and animals with food and with oxygen to breathe. To be self-sufficient, colonists would need to recycle the atmosphere and plant, animal and human waste. This proves a huge difficulty.

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The problem of mental health is being examined. Scientists need to discover how small groups of people would interact with one another when in isolation from others. In 1991 the Biosphere II was sealed with a group of people inside, who found the seclusion difficult. Unlike real space travelers, the crew inside the Biosphere II could asked to be let out. These eight crew members discovered, from 1991-1993 in Arizona, that living in Biosphere's artificial environment was hard.

NASA has a new, small type of spacecraft called deep space probes. It involves the testing of these new technologies that have never been used in space. DS1, Deep Space 1, launched in 1998. DS1 traveled to the asteroid 1992 KD with its self-guidance system and automated navigation. It tested solar cells and the new type of rocket called the ion drive. The ion drive is made of a gas of ions pulled toward a grid and then expelled at a high speed. This action results in the pushing the spacecraft into the opposite direction. It may be possible to reach speed ten times that of Voyager. But, it does not happen within an instant, it may require months to acquire this speed.

The initial stage of an interplanetary space probe will be placement in orbit around the Earth. The rockets will be fired by mission control, and the probe will be launched into an orbit around the Sun. The solar orbit has been carefully calculated to cross the orbit of a target planet. To place the probe into solar orbit, requires arriving at the same place and time of the planet.

1. Editors. Secrets of the Universe. International Master Publishing: US. 1999

2. Couper, Heather and Nigel Henbest. Space Encyclopedia DK Publishing, Inc.: NY 1999