For the first time in history, mankind is about to become
a regular visitor to places in our own solar system.
Already, plans are in the works to check out Mars,
Saturn, and even Pluto, the most distant in our own
cosmic village of planets.
The plans for interplanetary travel sound like something
out of science fiction, but they're not.
"Our plan is to send the first mission to Pluto
shortly after the turn of the century," said Robert
Staehle, the manager of the Pluto Mission.
Daniel McCleese of the Mars Expeditions Team predicts
that by 2015, "you could see the planet with people
living on the surface for as long as two Earth years."
And Cheik Diara, a scientist from Jet Propulsion Lab,
said that eventually, weather forecasts from Mars will
be available on the Internet.
In the next 20 years, scientists say, planetary exploration
may lead to an explosion of knowledge, a 21st century
Robotic emissaries will carry out the first expeditions.
Next October, the Cassini probe begins a seven-year trip
to Saturn and its moon Titan. As Cassini mission manager
Richard Spehalski noted, robots have the capacity to
tell us much about the makeup of other planets through
chemical analysis and photography.
"I'd like to see if we've got lakes and waterfalls
of ethane or other organics. Maybe even icebergs," Spehalski
said. "Who can tell?"
In 2003, NASA's mission to Pluto, the Pluto Express,
is scheduled to lift off on a journey to the last unexplored
planet of the solar system. It will take the craft 10
to 13 years to get from Earth to Pluto.
While the probes act as our eyes and ears in deep space,
humans will remain relatively close to home, living and
working on a new international space station. NASA will
continue flying shuttle missions for at least the next
By 2010, it's hoped a new commercially developed space
vehicle will be ready. The new vehicle won't jump right
in to replace the current space shuttle, though. It will
have to demonstrate its performance and reliability before
NASA payloads will be placed on it.
Humans won't leave low-Earth orbit until it's time to
send a manned mission to Mars, which could happen as
early as 2011, depending on what robotic probes find.
The first two robotic missions, Pathfinder and Global
Surveyor, are already on the way.
Half a dozen other landers and orbiters are scheduled
in the next eight years, all leading up to the most ambitious
mission since the days of Apollo. In about 2005, a spacecraft
will leave Earth for Mars and hopefully will return three
years later with a 1 pound sample of Martian rock and
"I think the central issue of 'should we send humans'
is a question of need," McCleese said. "Will
we learn that Mars presents a mystery that requires humans
to land to solve it?"
The mystery, of course, is whether life ever did or
still does exist on the Red Planet. The discovery of
Mars meteorites containing possible evidence of past
primitive life has led to new questions about the origin
of life in the solar system.
The theory, according to Ed Shostak of the Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project, is that
Mars had very simple forms of life before organic life
forms appeared on Earth. "A chunk of Mars lands
on Earth and seeds our planet, and we are the result
-- four billion years later, three billion years later.
So in that scenario, we are the Martians," Shostak
"I think it's a fascinating speculation that perhaps
the home planet of the human race might actually be Mars," said
planetary astronomer Rich Terrile.
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson also was excited
by the finding. "One of our nearest neighbors has
evidence of life. Maybe life now, in the wake of that
information, is far more prevalent in the galaxy than
we ever imagined," he said.
Unraveling these mysteries may well lead to an age of
enlightenment, and the answers we find may yield even
more profound questions than the ones we are beginning
# 2001, 03, 05 Mars Surveyor Program (USA) 3 separate
# 2003, 27th august : The red planet will be less than
56 million kilometres from Earth,
the closest it's been for 60,000 years.
# 2005 Mars Sample Return (USA): Retrieve soil samples and bring back to Earth
WHAT SPACE MAY LOOK LIKE IN THE FUTURE :
2000s: International Space Station
2030s: Space tours
2040s: Battle Station
2050s: Space Factory
2060s: Power House In Space
2090s: Hotel Luna
2095s: Space Colony
2100s: City On Mars
2100s: Space Rock City
2110s: Escape From The Sun
2140s: Orbital Elevator