With this weeks grounding of Nasa’s Discovery heralding the end of the shuttle missions for the foreseeable future, many feel that this is a deflating step back which will set us back many years in terms of scientific development.
I am all for the pursuit of space travel; not only for the useful byproducts that find later applications, much in the same way as fundamental research, but also for the ethics, by progressing our knowledge and establishing ourselves within the universe.Many more, much successful scientists have written about this far better than I ever could but what I want to look at is all of the behind the scenes work that Nasa continue to do.
Here on earth many scientists are working tirelessly in the fields of nanotechnology in order to shrink equipment needed on space missions. Nasa states that it currently costs around $10,000 a Pound(Lb / 0.4Kg_ to send something into space; that is anything. This doesn’t include the development cost of equipment.. just getting it up into orbit. This explains exactly why NASA see Nanotechnology as a crucial tool for enabling cheaper space travel and enabling the return of manned space missions in the future.
One key aspect which is necessary especially for long range manned missions is monitoring astronauts’ health. NASA has a dedicated team working on the development of biosensors as currently occupants of the ISS must send back samples such as blood, saliva and urine to be tested on earth. This is costly and impractical when considering the logistics of manned missions to Mars, and further afield in the future.
If biosensors can be made and kept long term on-board this will not only save costs but it will allow real time monitoring of the physical conditions of the crew. By amounting a large amount of data, doctors here on earth would Be able to closely monitor any affects of long term space travel and reduce any side effects.
This is only one aspect of the vast range of nanotechnology research currently undertaken by NASA and though the funding cuts are really beginning to bite with in the space exploration community, it is only through this fundamental research we may be able to reduce the cost of space travel and begin to explore the galaxy.