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Technology flies us into the future

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Monday, October 3, 2016, 8:00 AM - In July 1969, three men blasted off for the Moon atop a Saturn V rocket booster, and were quickly followed by six other missions over the next four years. These Moon-shots defined a new era, and brought with them the promise of exploration, but for over 40 years … this was it.

To this date, the Saturn V remains the most powerful rocket ever built and the only rocket to ever launch a human-piloted spacecraft beyond low-Earth orbit, and the Moon is, so far, the greatest distance humanity has ever travelled in space.

But now, in 2016, as the infinite possibilities of technology open doors to feats of rocketry that were previously unfathomable, humanity is preparing to push the limits of its exploration. 

Thanks to commercial spaceflight companies like SpaceX, we are now seeing rocket boosters which are capable of carrying satellites and spacecraft into orbit, and then safely touch down back on Earth afterwards, to be used again.

Based on the company’s plans, this will soon be followed up by Dragon crew capsules that are capable of the same amazing feat.

A simulation of SpaceX's Crew Dragon, coming in for a landing after a successful launch into orbit. Credit: SpaceX


This year is also noteworthy for more advancements, which are filled with limitless opportunity.

Currently in development are SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, which is slated for an early-2017 demonstration launch, and NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule, due for a test launch to the Moon and back by November 2018.

Falcon Heavy. Credit: SpaceX

Space Launch System. Credit: NASA/MSFC

These technologies, in particular SpaceX’s reusable rocket system, have reached back to the science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s, to a time when we watched fantastical stories of humans taking off to far, distant worlds, to land, explore and then return to tell the tale. SpaceX and NASA’s efforts are not flights of fantasy, however, but promise to make those decades-old fantasies into reality.

Mars via The Hubble Space Telescope, May 12, 2016.
Credits: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA),
J. Bell (ASU), and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)

The first far-off environment to navigate? The planet Mars.

Robots driven by state-of-the-art thinking have explored this alien world for decades now, inspiring important scientific discoveries in the process. The next big step is for humans to visit, to continue and expand on this work, and possibly even to establish a permanent outpost there.

Such a daunting task would be unheard of in years past, but these amazing technologies, from both SpaceX and NASA, are making it not only possible, but could have humans walking on Mars by the middle of the next decade.

It will be Falcon Heavy and Red Dragon, along with SLS with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which will carry these first explorers and settlers on their path to Mars, and a newly-proposed plan by SpaceX’s could see us colonizing Mars in the next few decades, with a focus on making the journey affordable for nearly anyone who wishes to make the trip.

By leaps and bounds in this way, from first flight to first orbit, to the Moon and next to Mars, technology, and its infinite promise and boundless possibilities, are making it possible for humanity to expand our horizons. We’ve come this far in just over a century. What will technology make possible in the centuries to come?

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