This week, we celebrate 50 years since Apollo 11’s first landing of humans on the moon – one of humanity’s greatest achievements.
The technologies born of the Apollo missions shaped life on Earth in more ways than we often recognise through inventions we use every day.
This anniversary is about more than where we’ve been – it’s about where we’re going. The next space race is well underway, with lunar landings – that’s landings plural – planned for 2024 and beyond.
Like their predecessors, these missions will revolutionise life back on Earth, and Britain is poised to play a major part. Already a £14.8bn domestic industry, and with manufacturing across this sector rising by 27 per cent in 2018, space is an increasingly important frontier for the UK, with opportunities in satellites and other key technologies.
Here are just a few of the many new capabilities the next lunar landings will bring.
Autonomous vehicles and systems
With sustained human presence on the moon this time around, we will need more regular and frequent lunar missions for supply and transport of goods and people between Earth and the moon.
This will drive the development of more autonomous, reusable spacecraft; making them more like an airliner than the single-use spacecraft of today.
Furthermore, autonomous vehicles and systems working in cooperation with humans – for example, in moon mining or habitat construction – will amplify human capabilities and maximise their safety.
The technological advances developed will also be put to work on Earth, helping to create the next generation of autonomous vehicles and systems for transport, manufacturing, and smart cities.
Sustainable energy production and storage
The constraints of the lunar environment mean that things we take for granted on Earth, like electrical power, need to be generated and delivered in new ways.
Obviously, fossil fuels and wind power aren’t available, but with one lunar day lasting 14 Earth days, solar power is in abundant supply.
This offers us nearly unlimited energy, but with a need to develop new ways to store that energy during the equally long lunar night.
A range of other sustainable sources, such as waste-free nuclear energy, will be explored as well, with the European Space Agency planning to mine on the moon for this by 2025.
There are countless examples from recent decades of technologies developed through space exploration that benefited us enormously here on Earth as well.
Medical care for the humans living and working on the moon will come with unique logistical and cost challenges. Medical expertise and treatments that would be readily available on Earth simply aren’t options.
As a result, progress needs to be made in areas including on-demand production of medicine and robotic-assisted telemedicine and surgery.
These advances offer the potential for profound improvements to delivering medicine on Earth – particularly to remote and developing areas.
The UK Space Agency is in good company with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s Space X, and other private sector firms by putting in place the building blocks for sending people into orbit.
This could either be merely for the sheer exhilarating experience itself, or as part of a short transcontinental flight – think London to Australia in just 90 minutes.
The agency recently announced a pledge of £22m for Europe’s first spaceport to be built in Cornwall. In partnership with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, it is aiming to launch sub-orbital flights in the early 2020s.
Life on Mars?
An outpost on the moon supports our goal of launching expeditions to Mars or going even deeper into space. Nasa’s proposed Lunar Gateway creates the opportunity to test tools and even human habitats long before astronauts would travel farther into space.
Plus, it takes 25 to 30 times less energy and resources to reach Mars from the moon rather than from the Earth.
Looking to the horizon
Whatever advances the next lunar missions bring or do not bring, one thing is clear: humans have an insatiable drive to see what’s over the next horizon.
That next horizon has been beckoning for 50 years, and the space race currently underway offers the promise to deliver even more giant leaps for mankind.
Main image credit: Getty
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