Space Missions, Races, and Surprises

The World of Space is Being Explored Like Nothing Before and it is Exciting

On March 3, 2020, College of Engineering guest speaker Professor Richard Holdaway gave his last presentation in his speaker series Journey Through Space and Time: “Been There, Done That. What’s Next?” He spoke to an auditorium full of mainly members of the Prescott community, although there were a few students present. Professor Holdaway covered five topics during this presentation: new space missions, humans going to the moon and Mars, if travel to the stars is feasible, space tourism, and new space races. 

First, Professor Holdaway spoke about why it is so expensive to go to space: the rocket can cost about $3 to $4 million dollars, the equipment is extremely complex, machines must be ultra-reliable so as not to endanger human life, and space is a harsh environment. 

Professor Holdaway then jumped into some statistics. He told the audience that the number of satellites has increased by one-thousand-fold since 1960, going from 12 to about 12,000 satellites in space currently. 

The professor then decided to shock the audience: Earth has a new moon! Discovered during the last week of February by the Catalina Sky Survey telescopes, this moon is small, just six by twelve feet in size. Scientists figure that it will escape Earth’s orbit as suddenly as it entered, so they do not expect it to stick around very long. 

Next, Professor Holdaway initiated a long list of new missions that have been launched into space in recent years or are being planned in the near future. Among these are James Webb’s telescope, which will launch in 2024 and is meant to replace the Hubble telescope, and the LISA mission, which will go up in 2034 and will consist of three spacecraft being launched into space exactly five million kilometers away from each other in a triangular pattern. That will allow these complex machines to measure gravitational waves in space. 

There are two new space races underway at this time. The first one consists of China vs. the US. China is behind in space technology but is catching up fast. It has an impressive space program that is made up of civilians and run by the military. It has already had ten or eleven men in space, and last year, it launched a successful rover mission to the moon. It was also the first country to land a rover on the far side of the moon, the side that is ever not visible to Earth. He then made an exclusive reveal: China is planning a mission to the moon this year, which is much earlier than the official expected launch year of 2025. This mission will most likely be just a fly-by of the moon, but Professor Holdaway suspects that China will have a man on the moon by next year 

The second space race is between three individuals in the private sector: Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk withSpaceX, and Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin. Professor Holdaway believes that Branson will be the first to take humans to space. He has a mission that is projected to go up this year in mid-March. Bezos will most likely be the first to have people on Mars, however, according to Professor Holdaway. 

The audience was very excited about this presentation and didn’t seem to mind that it ran overtime. David Norcross, a member of the Prescott community, said, “I enjoyed it a lot. I am a scientist by trade, so I enjoy seeing someone who is interested in this.” The Dean of Engineering, Dr. Madler, said, “I think we all need to thank you for giving up your time to come speak to us.” 

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