While much of the talk today is about Mars, NASA has got its eyes on deeper space. (Supplied: NASA/GSFC)
Hundreds of the world’s brightest young scientists and students have descended upon Adelaide this week for the 16th Space Generation Congress, an annual gathering of budding space professionals under 35.
NASA and the European Space Agency are also in attendance, outlining their bold plans for the future and, according to at least one scientist, creating a level of interest amongst the wider community not seen in years.
“Because space exploration is a long-term kind of vision of things, you have to actually engage the young people,” said Jason Crusan, director of Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA.
“You’re seeing a resurging interest in public support for doing the hard things.”
The Space Generation Congress (SGC) is being run as a curtain raiser to the International Astronautical Congress, which gets underway next week.
Elon Musk and representatives from SpaceX will attend next week’s conference. (AP: John Raoux )
Some of the largest space agencies and companies, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX, are in attendance.
The three-day SGC gathering is about exposing young professionals to the cosmic challenges facing humanity and introducing them to the career prospects which lie ahead.
“The technology has finally gotten to a point and the economics are there for a lot of activities,” he said.
“Right now, we’re in production of the our next-generation launch vehicles and crew transportation systems and what’s exciting to me is that we’re building the infrastructure and the spaceships which will take us out into deep space.
“It’s always been 20 years away. But we actually have real contracts, real hardware being developed for these systems today.”
‘Fly-bys of Venus’ a future reality
For the next few days, students and young professionals will be learning from space agencies at the cosmic coalface.
They include the European Space Agency, which is leading workshops on the prospects of commercializing the moon by encouraging non-space industry to develop lunar programs.
NASA is outlining its plans to get humanity off our orb, including a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
“At the end of the day we want to be able to go anywhere, anytime we want to go,” Mr Crusan said.
“That means places like the moon or Mars or even fly-bys of Venus.”
With emerging private operators like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, NASA believes that the growing commercial space industry has a big role to play in getting us into deep space.
“We want to utilise that entire industrial base to send humans out into the solar system for the first time,” Mr Crusan said.
As to the most fundamental question as to why leave the Earth at all, Mr Crusan was both philosophical and pragmatically practical.
“If we stop doing the hard things, I think we stop being human,” he said.
“Space is one of those things that inspires people to do hard things.”
He quickly added that any breakthroughs navigating the solar system would deliver rewards on our pale blue dot.
“[Space enthusiasts] go into other fields. They make the next medical breakthrough, the next agricultural breakthrough, and that goes towards solving all those hard problems here.”
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