Subject Matter Expert:
“It is difficult
to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is
the hope of today and reality of tomorrow.”
Robert Goddard (considered to be
America’s ‘father of rocketry’)
Imagine yourself traveling on a spacecraft
just like those in Star Trek or Star Wars. Impossible? It
depends on whom you ask. It was less than 66 years between
the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight and Neil
Armstrong’s first step on the moon. Impossible some might have said.
But true. Impossible things can become quite possible, especially
for NASA and the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC).
NIAC looks for ideas that are “revolutionary,
not evolutionary.” According to NIAC, revolutionary ideas
are breakthroughs that inspire others. They look for the
kind of thinking that breaks old molds. Creative thinkers
and researchers are challenged to stretch their imaginations.
Their ideas don’t fit into today’s needs. NIAC wants ideas
that WILL be used 10 to 40 years in the future. Their slogan,
“Don’t Let Your Preoccupation With Reality Stifle Your Imagination,”
sets the stage for their work.
The list of ideas generated for NIAC causes
you to wonder. Science fiction? No, someday science fact.
Imagine traveling by space elevator one day. How will it
work? Kind of like an electromagnetic vehicle. It will travel
into space and back to Earth while attached to a cable that
is several thousand kilometers/miles long. We expect that
a safe and economical space elevator would place objects
in orbit at a fraction of the current cost. New technology
must be perfected to create the cable and electromagnetic
propulsion system. But the idea is sound. It’s been around
since 1895, suggested by scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke wrote about it too,
in 1978. Where there are ideas, there can be creations.
Think about new robots for future space exploration.
“Microbots” are being considered as a way to study planets
such as Mars. These robots would be microscopic (a few millimeters
to centimeters). They could fly in groups, hundreds or thousands
covering a wide area of the planet while hopping, bouncing,
and flying, they could analyze materials on the surface of
a planet as well as in the atmosphere.
Need a place to stay as you travel between
the Earth, moon, and Mars? A solar-electric-propelled spacecraft
called an Astrotel (short for “astronaut hotel”) may be just
what you need. Designed as a “safe and affordable” way to
transport astronauts, the Astrotels could send supplies to
astronauts already on the moon and Mars. Constantly orbiting
between these locations, astronaut crews and supplies could
be refreshed every few months.
Living and working in space is challenging.
Outside the spacecraft, astronauts depend upon their space
suits to hold in air needed for breathing as well as pressure
to keep them alive in the near vacuum of space. Current space
suits are bulky and awkward. What might be created to replace
them? A Bio-Suit System is being studied. Like a “space leotard,”
this new type of suit may be a “spray-on” material. It could
even make you stronger and contain artificial muscle fibers
to enhance human strength. Astronauts would still wear a
sealed helmet, gloves, boots, and a hard shell around the
torso for extra protection for the vital organs.
Where will you live once you’ve landed on the
moon and Mars? One thought is to use a transparent “bubble”
chamber for a temporary home. These “bubbles” could be constructed
inside caves or similar locations on the surface. Offering
protection to the astronauts and a place to grow plants,
the bubbles would not harm the environment.
Does all this information sound like science
fiction? Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more
important than knowledge.” NIAC is looking for people with
BOTH imagination and knowledge. They need creative thinkers
– men and women and people of all ages and backgrounds. In
fact, the principal investigators for the Bio-Suit and the
Cave Bubble are women.
You may someday be one of those dreamers, helping
to change science fiction into science fact. NASA has big
dreams for future space exploration and maybe one day you
will be a 21st Century Explorer.