In recent years, NASA, has ramped up deep space exploration. Granted, we haven’t been sending people out into the far flung reaches of space, but we have been looking, watching, and waiting. Missions like Kepler, Opportunity, and Hyugens have revealed a lot about our solar system and the universe beyond.
In the 60’s when the Apollo missions were getting off the ground, people expected there to be a moon base by now, but then NASA stopped sending men to the moon and those dreams faded as well. Perhaps the public was a little too ambitious at the time, the men of the Apollo missions were like Captain Kirk of Star Trek. Going out into a place they didn’t know, swashbuckling their way to the moon. After the final two Apollo missions were cancelled, NASA focused on low-earth orbit missions, like the space shuttle. However, cost was not the only factor, there is a great deal to learn from exploring the space immediately beyond our world. We learn more about radiation, how humans react to weightlessness, how plants grow in space, and so much more that will be the ground from which we launch our deeper space exploration missions. Not to mention, without the focus on low-earth orbit we might not have had GPS as soon as we did.
Currently, the Kepler mission is looking at a region of space for exo-planets (planets beyond our solar system) and it has found literally thousands. There are even thousands more potentially once all the data is sifted and sorted through. This has helped bring NASA back to the forefront of news. In fact, the first earth-like planet in the “goldilocks zone” of a star was recently confirmed and the Kepler spacecraft recently got a new lease on life. Also, the Voyager 1 spacecraft has been confirmed to be in interstellar space, making the old, new again even for NASA. The international space station has been home to humans around the clock for over a decade now, and we continue for several years to come. The scientific research being conducted on the ISS has already changed the way researchers look at aspects of space, proving that there is a reason for low-earth orbit exploration.
However, there is also a desire for humans to explore further into the cosmos, beyond our own solar system either. For this reason, NASA is researching many new propulsion systems; one of which is a warp drive. Harold White, of Eagleworks Laboratory is currently conducting tests to determine if such a drive is possible. Put simply, the drive creates a “wave” of space, and like a surfer on a wave, the wave carries the ship forward. Of course, the ocean, unlike space is affected by the tides and wind which create waves, in space the waves would have to be artificially created. A ship, like a surfer, would have to get up to a predetermined speed, and create the wave, which would then carry the ship at speeds greater than the ship itself could move, potentially exceeding the speed of light (without breaking the rules that is). As of a 2013 presentation at a university, Harold White had yet to confirm the creation of a warp field, but had not got any negative results, which he said was “very exciting for a physicist.”
Perhaps soon we will begin exploring our entire solar system and beyond with technology like White’s warp drive or other technology like q-thrusters, VASIMR engine, ion engines or another! With even more technologies and advance sure to come in the next 100, 50, or even ten years who knows how far humans will go. Maybe there is no limit, as Buzz Lightyear said… to infinity and beyond.