Space exploration, although very fascinating, is extremely costly. Did you know that NASA’s fiscal year budget is $21.6 billion this year? With a budget this high, imagine the advances in technology the agency is able to achieve. Our everyday use of technology like cell phones and smart speakers may already seem advanced to you, but this is nothing compared to the intricacies of space technology. Let’s take a look at some of the most innovative technologies that space exploration has invented to help us on our quest to learn as much as we can about the universe.
The Hubble Space Telescope
Ever since its launch in 1990, this telescope has been one of the most successful advances in space exploration. Being 569 km above the Earth’s surface, this technology avoids atmospheric distortion, allowing it to bring thousands of jaw-dropping images back to Earth. Additionally, it has helped explain many of the greatest space mysteries. It has helped us determine the age of the universe, shown us the existence of dark energy, discovered planets, quasars and much more. The antennae on the telescope send and receive information to the Goddard Space Flight Centre. Using satellites, the engineers are able to communicate with it by sending commands. The telescope is composed of two main computers and numerous smaller systems. One computer is responsible for the commands that control the telescope while the other communicates to other instruments, receives their data and sends it to satellites which transmit this information to the Centre. Take a look at some of the extravagant images that this complex telescope has taken over the years here.
Did you know that a spacesuit weighs over 300 lbs and cost $22 million to create? Although they are exceptionally expensive, they are very technologically advanced. Spacesuits allow us to exist in extreme temperatures and conditions that humans would normally not be able to survive in for more than a couple of seconds. Additionally, they provide us with oxygen to breathe while in space and contain water to drink during spacewalks. The suits also protect astronauts from injuries from space dust, radiation in space, bright sunlight and allow them to walk on surfaces with restricted gravitational conditions. Without these intricate spacesuits, we would not be able to walk on any other terrestrial planets.
The Kepler Space Telescope
The low-cost Kepler telescope was only expected to last three to four years but ended up lasting almost ten years. This telescope was built to find planets outside our solar system that are similar to Earth. In its time, it revealed over 4,500 planets and planet candidates. Of the nine years in space, Kepler faced the constellation, Cygnus for four years which is where many of these planets and stars were discovered. Kepler discovered exoplanets (planets which orbit stars outside our Solar System) by watching for dimming stars as planets passed in front of them. Kepler’s greatest achievement was discovering how diverse our universe actually is, sometimes planets would even orbit multiple stars like in the Star Wars Universe. Without telescopes such as these, humans would not be able to see what’s beyond our vicinity. In fact, the furthest that a human has travelled from our home planet is only 400,171 km. Our telescopes, such as Hubble, can see up to 13 billion light-years into space which is unbelievable as one light year is approximately 9.46 trillion kilometres.
International Space Station (ISS)
The ISS is the largest and most expensive technology that has ever been built, weighing almost a million pounds and costing approximately $160 billion to date. This high-tech technology allows its passengers to travel at five miles per second, meaning it would only take 90 minutes to orbit the Earth. It also allows up to six spaceships to be connected to the station at once. Although this technology is very advanced, it takes a lot of work to maintain. Over 50 computers control the systems on the space station and more than three million lines of software code on the ground support over 1.5 million lines of flight software code. Although these space expenditures are costly, they are very rewarding. The ISS serves as a science laboratory and because of it, we are learning more about the effects of space on the human body, both physically and psychologically.
Spirit and Opportunity
Spirit and Opportunity were the two successful Mars rovers that helped us with many discoveries on Mars and were advanced enough to be controlled from the Earth. Landing on almost opposite sides of Mars, their purpose was to conduct field geology and make atmospheric observations. They not only provided us with the first, colour and clear images of Mars’ surface but they also discovered the intermittent flow of water on Mars in 2015. Both of these rovers exceeded their 90-day expected lifetime by several years making them one of NASA’s most successful inventions.
The elaborate technologies discussed above are just a few among the many that exist. The money that we invest in technology has helped us immensely to expand our understanding of the universe. Without technology, we wouldn’t know as much about space exploration as we do today. For example, on 10 April 2019, Dr Katie Bouman took the first ever photo of a black hole. The black hole in this image is approximately 55 billion light-years away located in the heart of the galaxy called M87. Our knowledge about space is always expanding and technology is a pivotal element that allows for this. Who knows what technologies we will come up with in the future. Maybe we one day we will be able to travel at speeds much closer to the speed of light and our astronauts will be able to visit different galaxies.
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