Finally, the moon program, Artemis, has lifted off, launching the next era of space travel. The initial unmanned voyage to moon and around will eventually be followed in 2025 by the first manned landing in fifty years. Next will come a colony on moon and an orbiting station that will serve as a launching pad for destinations beyond moon; Mars being the first one on the list.
I am excited.
I grew up in a time when space travel was beginning. First there were satellites in orbit, then dogs, followed by humans. Soviet Union was ahead of US at that time. First satellite (Sputnik), first dog (Laika), first man (Gagarin), first woman (Tereshkova), first multi-man crew (Komarov, Feoktistov, and Yegorov), and so on. The anticipation was that the first human to land on moon would also be a Russian. The joke of the day was: “What will Americans find on moon when they land?” “Russians.”
Then came the famous challenge by a young American president to land a man on the moon by the time the decade was finished. Apollo program was born and we all know the history.
We anticipated that the tremendous success of putting men on the moon will be followed up by manned-missions to Mars and even more distant corners of the solar system. We thought that even an average tourist like us will be able to travel to an orbiting hotel for vacation. When the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey came out, it did not look that far-fetched.
Year 2001 came and went. Except for building of a space station and the space shuttle system, there was no excitement on the manned travel front. The idea of commercial space travel (for the ordinary folks like us) remained elusive.
It took fifty years, but finally we may be moving in the direction I was hoping for during those early days. Thanks to a few rich megalomaniacs, commercial space travel may become possible in near future. Now with the Artemis system, travel to Mars may also be possible.
However, given how much time it has taken to reach this point and how much time I have left, it looks highly unlikely that I personally would benefit out of these developments. At best, I will be cheering from the sidelines, and hope that my grandchildren will fulfill my dream.
This is assuming that things proceed the way I hope they would. Travel to Mars is still considered to be a big joke. (When a news reporter mentioned that possibility while reporting on Artemis launch, the news anchors, all of them, burst out laughing.)
I don’t know how enthusiastic the younger generation is about space travel. Within my immediate circle, nobody has shown any interest whatsoever. Without that enthusiasm, the funding will be hard to come by. “You think we should travel to Mars when we have all these problems at home?” is likely to be the argument that will kill any ambitious space travel.
Growing up, I never thought that I may not live to see further space exploration in my lifetime, even though I might live a long life.
Now that seems to be a distinct possibility.