The future of space travel is starting right now

Astronaut Garrett Reisman talks NASA, SpaceX, and where we're headed next.

GARRETT REISMAN: A hundred years from now I think we'll be celebrating the centennial of 2020 and all the stuff that's going to happen in 2020. Not just this crazy pandemic and all this stuff that's happening but as far as space goes 2020 is going to be a really good year. I know 2020, I'll admit 2020 so far has not been one of my more favorite years. In fact, it's pretty terrible. It's been pretty awful. But I can also tell you that there's going to be something really, really amazing that happens in 2020 which is that we're finally going to see the true launch, no pun intended, of this whole new era of space exploration led by a lot of private companies working in partnership with NASA that are going to take us back to space using American rockets, launching from American soil.
And it's going to happen first by SpaceX and SpaceX we've been working on the Crew Dragon vehicle for a long time now. This is the year it's going to fly. We have a date actually scheduled only two months from now is when we plan to do the first flight with people and it's going to be Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, two former colleagues of mine, two friends of mine are going to be the first test pilots to fly Dragon up to the space station. And so we're finally going to get to the point in SpaceX where we're launching people on our rockets which is what the company was founded for.
But it's not just SpaceX. It's also Boeing is not that far behind on their spacecraft, the Starliner. And then we have two other private companies that are doing suborbital flights purely for space tourism. But they also, both these companies have plans and ambitions to go beyond that. And that is Blue Origin. It has a New Shepard vehicle that's going to go straight up. Like I was saying before it's going to go straight up and straight back down but you'll get high enough to see the curvature of the Earth. You'll experience about five minutes of floating in zero gravity and look, it's going to be an incredible ride. If I hadn't have already gone myself I would totally be buying a ticket right now.
And so Elon, Jeff Bezos they put a lot of their effort had money and resources into jumpstarting this whole, to get us back on that trajectory to where we're headed toward having a colony on Mars or in the case of Jeff Bezos he wants to have massive space stations where millions of people can live in space and do all the manufacturing. He wants to basically turn Earth into a national park kind of thing where you can come and visit but let's get all the factories off of this planet so we stop polluting it. They have these incredibly grand visions, so that's going to change everything. The access to space for humans is going to drastically expand this year in 2020.
I think in a hundred years first of all we're going to be celebrating 2020, so 2120 get ready for a big party. Just like we had all theses great events to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of landing on the moon, Apollo 11 and the Apollo program, we're going to be celebrating 2020 I think in the same way.
Because this is just the start. All those things I just described as wonderful as they are and as big of a step as they are it's just the first step because all these companies and all these projects that we're talking about is just the beginning. The next step and the things that they have on the drawing boards, the things not just on the drawing boards but the things that are being tested in Boca Chica and in other places where the other companies have their test sites are really going to knock your socks off. We're talking about incredible new machines, new rockets that can carry lots of people and go much further, back to the moon, onto Mars. But what's happening here in 2020 is the start of all that. Basically all those dreams that we were promised in science fiction in the 1950s about taking your vacations amongst the rings of Saturn and all that. That's starting now and we're heading that way and I couldn't be more excited about that.

  • 2020 is off to rocky start, but there are some exciting things happening on the space travel front.
  • Private companies like SpaceX and Boeing have partnered with NASA to get American spacecrafts into space, back to the moon, and onwards to Mars.
  • "I think in a hundred years first of all we're going to be celebrating 2020, so 2120 get ready for a big party," says astronaut Garrett Reisman.

Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

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Study: Unattractive people far overestimate their looks

The finding is remarkably similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency.

Sex & Relationships
  • Recent studies asked participants to rate the attractiveness of themselves and other participants, who were strangers.
  • The studies kept yielding the same finding: unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness, while attractive people underrate their looks.
  • Why this happens is unclear, but it doesn't seem to be due to a general inability to judge attractiveness.
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Meet the worm with a jaw of metal

Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.

Credit: Mike Workman/Adobe Stock
Personal Growth
  • Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
  • Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
  • It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
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