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Life in space : A peep into man's astrobiological missions and the subjects students should study to build their expertise in the same field

Life in space : A peep into man
Highlights

Space is the final frontier and the most hostile and dangerous place for humans to travel to. An important endeavour of our human race should be to...

dr shanthi swaroop

Space is the final frontier and the most hostile and dangerous place for humans to travel to. An important endeavour of our human race should be to keep Earth safe while trying to find other habitable planets. Exploration of space is analogous in many ways to the Europeans circumnavigating the globe in search of greener pastures while escaping from tradition, climate, oppression, and fueling the spirit of human adventure to discover and tame virgin worlds.

Countries and agencies like ISRO, NASA, SpaceX, etc, are beginning to pool together their resources and brains to find alternate pastures in the universe. In our solar system, humans have only been to the moon and have found limitations for establishing a habitat. Mars is the only other place in the solar system where humans could conceivably live. Mars has sunlight, carbon, and nitrogen- the essentials of life. Just like the earth, great eruptions had shaped it, great windstorms sanded it, and created the mesas and mountains. It is, however, hostile.

curiocity

Its atmosphere is inert and so thin that it creates intense dust devils, sending surging storms across the surface with temperatures hitting nearly hundred degrees below zero.

NASA, the American space exploration company, has put together a 2.5 billion dollar mission to land a space rover named "Curiosity" on Mars to study if life is possible. Car sized Curiosity, weighs 900kg, is made of Aluminum, is fueled by Plutonium, and costs 5 crore a day to operate. It is a complete scientific laboratory on wheels, equipped with lasers, spectrometers, gas chromatograph, radiation detector, X-ray crystallographer, and even a complete weather station. It could vaporise a rock, drill into a sample, and identify its minerals and chemical constituents.

In August 2012, the most complex and technically daring landing sequence in the history of the space program was executed to perfection finally putting Curiosity on Mars. Unlike previous rovers that were deployed to crash into the ground using parachutes and airbags, Curiosity used a precisely choreographed ballet of moves to gently descend with the help of a sky crane onto the surface. It will now spend two years wandering around the 96 mile wide Gale Crater exploring for signs of life. Since the landing it has investigated the surroundings of the crater and has already found evidence of buildings blocks of life on the planet.

The search for life on Mars is now in its sixth decade. Forty spacecraft have been sent and slowly the puzzle is being revealed. "Curiosity" has helped make great strides in scientific exploration and is beaming reams of data back to us. NASA and other agencies are in the midst of the arduous process of sifting through the data in an effort to unravel the mystery behind the Martian environment.

Solving the mystery of life on other planets is critical for our civilisation and the ensuing discoveries cannot be understated. The existence of life on other places in the universe would restart debates between science and religion. This will spur further innovation and exploration to find out more of what is out there. It would also provide us a glimpse into what climate changes we can prevent and how we can save Earth from extinction.

Are you interested in exploring other planets using robots and rockets? Do you believe in the romance of space and the adventure of space travel? The productive exploration of space warrants innovative designs for suitable vehicles, is this your bailiwick? If you are interested in these astrobiological missions, you can start by building expertise in physics, math, and science.

Taking courses in astronomy, chemistry, aerospace, and mechanical engineering. Space exploration is a multifaceted adventure that integrates diverse expertise areas and needs people from a broad portfolio of skill sets. Students should take active part in robotic, science, and computer clubs to gain hands-on experience and aim to develop engineering marvels.

There will not be a greater endeavor of civilisation than preserving itself by finding greener pastures elsewhere in space. Countries, companies, and private initiatives should unite and foster intra-terrestrial cooperation and aim to "terraform" other realms into human friendly environments. In future, there will be more intelligent vehicles and robots that will be sent to autonomously explore the expanses of space. There will be plenty of opportunities for the creative and prepared minds across the globe.

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