When asking an ambitious child of their aspirations in life some may say they want to become a doctor or a lawyer, or maybe the brave ones will say a fireman. However, I wonder how many children of the twenty-first century would say they wanted to be an astronaut? Becoming an astronaut is still as commendable and difficult an accomplishment as ever, but how many children of future generations will strive for this goal?
I wish that I could compare the number of “I want to be an astronuat when I grow up,” responses during the 1960’s and 1970’s to today’s children. The problem is that space travel is not as publicized as it used to be. Today, astronauts are launched a mere 2,000 kilometers from Earth’s surface to their destination: the International Space Station. Compared to the average 380,000 kilometer journey the Apollo missions embarked upon during the 1960’s and 70’s, the International Space Station is like taking a step onto Earth’s front porch.
Space travel does not provide nearly as much excitement for the public today as it did forty years ago. I wonder how many people know of the ISS and know that they can see it wit their naked eye. Being the largest artificial satellite to ever orbit Earth, the ISS is a marvelous masterpiece of engineering. However, I can’t help but feel dissapointed. It seems to me that space travel took one step forwards and then two steps back. Why are we hovering thousands a of kiolometers above our home planet? Shouldn’t we be traveling to Mars and cultivating other worlds by now?
One of the ISS’s research areas is studying the human body’s reaction to antigravity. One of an astronaut’s greatest challenges is to maintain their muscle strength in the antigravity environment in space. This is because the human body uses far less muscle in zero gravity than on Earth. Anyone who has quit a sport and not sustained an active life style knows that when a muscle is not being exercised on a daily basis it will shrink. This problem is a major concern for sending astronauts to Mars because they may not survive the landing once they’ve reached their destination because their internal muscles, such as their heart muslce, will not be strong enough to keep them alive once they’ve returned to the strong gravitational pull of a massive surface.
I recently came across an article writtein in 1995 congratulating a Russian astronaut for his return from space. Valeri Polyakov made the record for the longest stay in space of any man before him, and he still holds the record. An impressive 437 consecutvie days orbiting the Earth must have certainly challenege the Russian both physically and mentally. However, upon his return he was able to walk to a chair, which was considered an incredible achievement. The average time it would take a manned space craft to reach Mars is 500 days. So, I wonder. If it was proven that a man could remain in space for close to the time it would take to reach Mars, why haven’t we sent a manned aircraft to our red neighbor?