Recently, astronomers found at least seven additional planets located about 40 light-years away, a discovery that has once again spurred talks about expanded space travel andexploration.
The planets, all of which were found orbiting the “ultracool dwarf” star TRAPPIST-1, are around the size of Earth. Since the planets are in temperate zones, it is possible that they could have water on the surface and may even support life. The exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f seems like the best for the job even though it is a little colder than Earth. The planets do not get much light but their temperatures do not vary considerably from Earth’s.
This discovery might prompt some people to recall science-fiction movies and television shows, like Stargate, Star Trek and Star Wars. It seems like modern-day science and technology are finally catching up to those once fantastical concepts. Space travel has been possible for decades and it is time for the dream of commercial space flight to become a reality.
Under President Donald Trump’s administration, this might actually become a possibility. The president wants to take space exploration to the next level with what former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich calls a “competitive entrepreneurial approach.” This means moving NASA away from using private contractors like Boeing. Instead, private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin will start to play a bigger role in space exploration.
Trump’s plans call for a “space industrialization initiative,” in which NASA’s $19 billion yearly budget will be refocused. This new strategy will prioritize economic growth and the creation of new partnerships to create private sector jobs. This fits in with Trump’s promises for more jobs. His direction could possibly create $1 trillion per year and lead to U.S. domination of the space economy. However, Trump and his advisors are not the only ones who want to steer NASA in this direction.
Andrew Aldrin, son of famous astronaut Buzz Aldrin, highlighted the economic benefits of privatizing space exploration, arguing that it could help NASA bring more momentum to its human space program.
NASA’s program has been stalled since 2011 following the retirement of the space shuttle fleet. Aldrin believes that getting more investment in commercial markets can offer a better foundation for projects within human space travel. NASA has not yet been able to jumpstart these projects.
Aldrin states that even with clear interest for commercial travel, some people would also want to maintain “programmatic continuity” for fear that NASA will not stay relevant.
Thankfully, the new administration has already planned for this. Trump stressed that NASA will still be active, but geared more toward deep-space exploration technology rather than low-earth orbit activities.
These plans include the promotion of space tourism, the creation of private space stations, more satellite installations and even industrialization, such as the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and the creation of new materials.
These are things Gingrich said would not be possible with NASA. Gingrich does not believe any program governed by bureaucrats takes necessary risks or accepts its failures. These flaws, Gingrich says, deter progress.
The battle over whether space travel will become privatized is just beginning. Trump has not even named a NASA director yet and all the talk has caused workers to feel uneasy. Lori Garver, former deputy administrator of NASA during the Obama administration, said that the former administration had wanted to head in the same direction as the current one but made little progress because of congressional pushback.
Even though privatizing will create more jobs, lawmakers are wary because they do not know exactly what those jobs will be. Additionally, they are afraid that, since NASA will lose the privilege of contracting jobs within their districts, the program will go awry. Despite their opposition, privatization seems to be the right option and will allow NASA to regain its former prestige while making space travel more accessible and profitable.
Researchers plan to spend the next decade studying the atmosphere of the planets to find out for sure whether or not they can sustain life.
Even with commercial space flight being an option in the near future, average citizens will not get the chance to touch down on these planets since it would take millions of years to reach them. Additionally, it would take immense wealth that, apart from the 1 percent, nobody can access. However, every step toward privatization is surely one that leads to the TRAPPIST-1 solar system.