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Space: how far have we gone – and where arewe going?

太空:我们已经走了多远 - 我们要去哪里?

Billionaire entrepreneurs are trying tocreate rockets fit for human travel, while government agencies spend billionsfurthering their explorations. But we are still a long way off from making ourway to the red planet


Who has travelled to space?


Space flight is now a venerable industry.Humanity’s first space explorer, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, orbited aroundthe globe on 12 April 1961, more than half a century ago, when Britain remaineda colonial power and people were still using halfpennies to buy their fish andchips.


We imagine astronauts floating in freespace or bouncing in moon craters, yet the majority of those lucky enough haveinstead spun around in low Earth’s orbit – between 99 and a few hundred mileshigh. That’s where the vast array of communications and navigation satelliteslive, speeding at thousands of miles an hour to avoid plummeting back to earth.

我们想象宇航员在自由空间漂浮或在月球陨石坑中弹跳,但大多数幸运的人却只是在低地球轨道上旋转 - 在99到几百英里之间。这就是大量通信和导航卫星所在的地方,它们以每小时数千英里的速度飞行,以避免坠落到地球上。

What do we do there?


Even though we did not go back to deepspace, humans have begun to live and work outside the Earth’s atmosphere, oftenconducting experiments on themselves to determine the effects ofweightlessness, or microgravity, on the human body.


By 1986, the Soviet unx had launched theMir space station. When it eventually fell to Earth (thankfully unoccupied) andburned up, our current space outpost, the International Space Station (ISS),was launched. Since 2000, humans have been living in space constantly. Thereare three up there at the moment, speeding around the globe once every 90minutes.

到1986年,苏联发射了和平号空间站。当它最终落到地球(幸亏无人居住)并被烧毁时,我们目前的太空前哨 - 国际空间站(ISS)也已启动。自2000年以来,人类一直生活在太空中。目前有三个人在空间站上,每90分钟环绕地球飞驰一圈。

What happens to the body in space?


How much does it cost to send them up?


Astronomical. The ISS is the most expensivemachine ever constructed with a price tag at around $150bn (£115bn). Nasa’sspace shuttle programme, which kicked off in the early 1970s by promising safeand affordable access to space, hoped to cost just a few tens of milliondollars per launch. But as the shuttle was thrown in the scrapyard in 2011, theagency estimated the total cost at $209bn — nearly $1.6bn per flight.

天文数字。国际空间站是有史以来最昂贵的机器,价格约为1500亿美元(合1150亿英镑)。美国宇航局的航天飞机项目于20世纪70年代初开始实施,预计能够安全且以合理的价格进入太空,希望每次发射只花费数百万美元。但随着航天飞机于2011年被废弃,该机构估计总成本为2090亿美元 - 每次发射耗费近16亿美元。

Following the big fight over the shuttle,which looked fantastic but also restricted space adventuring to Earth’s orbitas well as costing a fortune, the US took a side seat in launches. Mostastronauts are now sent by the Russian space agency, which sells round-triprides on its Soyuz spacecraft for between $21m and $82m.


The first space race was part of thechest-beating of the cold war, but since then human space exploration has beenmore about countries working together than against each other. The ISS is amassive collaboration between five space agencies (Nasa, Roscosmos, Japan’sJaxa, the pan-European agency ESA and the Canadian Space Agency) and wasassembled over a period of 13 years from 1998, slowly adding capsules likeLego.


A big exception to this is China, which hasgone it alone with its space ambitions, never sending an astronaut to the ISS.In 2006, Beijing reportedly tested lasers against US imaging satellites in whatappeared to be an attempt to blind or damage them, and US lawmakers laterbanned cooperation between Nasa and China’s state agency.


However, the future of any effective humanspace flight is certainly likely to be cooperative rather than antagonistic.Since 2011, national spaces agencies in 14 countries have attempted tocoordinate their dreams into a single vision. The most recent plan, publishedin January this year, said they had agreed to “expand human presence into thesolar system, with the surface of Mars as a common driving goal”.


We’re off to the red planet? Hurray!


Will we ever get to Mars?


It is a mammoth feat and it would be wiseto expect serious delays. “Where we go in space is decided by a combination ofwhat people would like to do and the reality of time and budgets,” says HenryHertzfeld, director of the Space Policy Institute at George WashingtonUniversity, Washington DC, and a former policy analyst at Nasa. “The idea of puttingpeople on Mars has been around for a long time. If you read the policies, it isclearly a long-term vision without a date. But we probably are still lackingthe technology to keep people for a long time in deep space.”


Who are the new contenders in human spaceflight?


The US and Russia have been giving way tonew players. In 2003, China became the third country to put a person into orbitand India plans to follow in 2022. But the sector-changing impact isundoubtedly coming from the private space.


As government agencies prioritise the moon,others are looking straight at Mars. Musk has said his life goal is to create athriving Mars colony as a fail-safe for humanity in case of a catastrophicevent on Earth, such as a nuclear war or Terminator-style artificialintelligence coup. For this, SpaceX is developing the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR),which he claims could send crewed flights to the red planet by mid-2020.


Musk says the BFR is partly inspired byTintin’s rocket and will be the biggest ever made at close to 40 storeys highand capable of ferrying as many as 100 passengers per trip, depending on howmuch luggage they want to put in the hold.


As well as a healthy satellite launchbusiness, SpaceX is raising money by selling tickets on the BFR for a trip,some would say a jolly, around the moon. Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese fashionbillionaire and art collector, is funding such a mission slated for 2023 andsays he is going to invite artists with him for the week-long trip to re-engagethe public in the wonder of our universe.

除了健康的卫星发射业务外,SpaceX还通过出售搭乘BFR环游月球的旅行票来筹集资金,有些人会认为那种旅行非常有意思。日本时尚亿万富翁和艺术收藏家Yusaku Maezawa正在为2023年的这项任务提供资金,并表示他将邀请艺术家与他一起进行为期一周的旅行,让公众重新关注我们宇宙的奇迹。