Space, the final fr... Too cheesy? I think so too... Space is a fascinating place. Nebulas, black holes, pulsars, gas giants, huge expanses of nothing that isn't actually nothing at all are a few examples, and the discoveries to be made are seemingly endless. Some of the most interesting discoveries of recent years have come from the relatively new field of Astrobiology. Astrobiology is the study of the origins and evolution of space, its habitats and biodiversity, and the future of space itself. It's a hugely interdisciplinary field encompassing all of science that can't help but tickle the taste buds of anyone interested in exploration. Combined with the onset of commercial space flight in the relatively near future, could Frontier be offering a space exploration project within the next 50 years, or perhaps, even sooner? Let's examine the facts, the hurdles to overcome and some of the worlds you might be able to visit one day.
So where are we now?
Space exploration has come to the forefront of the public's interest in recent years with success stories coming from all over the world. As well as the recent successes reported by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, the European Space Agency boast an impressive track record and is the world leader in environmental research into the ozone layer. India is doing alright too having launched their Mars Orbiter mission in November of last year, so the present and the future seem bright.
The big hullabaloo in space at the moment concerns the discovery of planets orbiting distant stars in what scientists call "the habitable zone". In this zone the temperature of the planet in question would be stable enough to accommodate liquid water, that is to say it would not boil off in extremely high temperatures, or be permanently frozen in very low temperatures. Just 20 years ago the first of such planets was discovered and since then over 2000 are known, mostly thanks to the Keplar telescope. With the huge influx of discoveries in recent years, the question as to whether we are alone in the universe seems redundant. That being said, a planet the same size as earth, orbiting a sun very similar to ours and at the same distance is yet to be discovered.
One return flight to Mars, please
Leaps and bounds have been made in the commercial space flight industry. Testing is progressing and public flights have been conducted, though testing of the Virgin Galactic craft at the desired altitude of 62 miles is yet to be completed. Over 600 plucky space tourists have handed over a deposit to Virgin Galactic excitingly anticipating an experience in space, so it seems almost inevitable that space tourism will soon become a reality. With this in mind, how long will it be before run-of-the-mill scientists are venturing to the International Space Station and beyond to aid on planets other than our own? How about volunteers?
I cycle to work, space will be a doddle
Of course there is more to space travel than simply being able to afford the hefty price tag of a commercial space flight. Astronauts go through extensive training cycles and fitness regimes to be signed off as capable for missions in to outer space. Alongside muscle wastage, nausea, disorientation and other nominal effects, bone loss through calcium and phosphorus excretion due to weightlessness, and flashes of extremely damaging galactic cosmic rays slashing your brain to bits are but a few of the potential short and long-term effects caused by space travel.
Yeah yeah, we knew it would be dangerous, but will it break the bank?
Yes. Unless you're a Russian oligarch or an oil tycoon you're going to have to sit in a tonne of baths of baked beans and do lots of other fundraising event tomfoolery to cover your expenses. Let's have a look at some of the costs you may need to cover.
The Virgin Galactic commercial space flight ticket cost increased recently from $200,000 to $250,000. Aside from winning one of the fanciful space trip competitions going on offer in recent times, this is probably the cheapest way in to space. Well, unless you go and get yourself an astrophysics degree and work on becoming as fit as a marine commando to then just train as an astronaut, but that sounds like hard work.
This is a tricky one since the chances of you returning home from a trip to Mars, which currently takes with present-day technology two years to complete, is kind of slim if you account for all the dangers discussed earlier. But let's guestimate something plausible using current healthcare costs and travel insurance policies. For shorter trips perhaps something in the region of the cost of 6 months backpacking with winter sports cover would be applicable, roughly $500. For longer trips in to the cosmos you would need life insurance, which with your potentially imminent death on a voyage to Mars might be difficult to get hold of.
I can imagine there will come a day when space, and more specifically Mars, will be owned by someone or something. One could argue that a Mars visa might be quite cheap and easy to obtain since it would be sparsely populated, so let's have a wild stab-in-the-dark and just say the cost of a New Zealand working holiday visa - 165 NZD.
It is documented that Neil Armstrong's suit cost $12,000,000, and most modern day suits cost between $13,000,000 and $16,000,000. Ok, that may have just burst the space bubble for us all. How many fun runs would it take to raise that amount of money? Answer: lots.
There's a surprising variety of palatable food for your trip in to space. Some of it you may have seen in super markets such as freeze-dried ice cream and fruit, which is food stripped of moisture and frozen extremely quickly. Experiments have been conducted whereby astronauts were able to grow plants in space, so it's not unreasonable to assume longer voyages will involve a bit of gardening work! Costs vary but are typically slightly more expensive than ordinary food due to additional processes and methods of long-term storage.
With meteorites from the recent Russian impact for sale on Ebay, you can already pick up souvenirs at home. A jar of Martian dust however, is not so easy to come by and would certainly help you recover the costs from your trip.
Sign me up!
Travel into space as an Astrovolunteer with Frontier's Galactic Exploration Projects
"I couldn't believe how black everything was, and big, like seriously big. I really wanted to stay a few more weeks but apparently you can die if you stay in zero gravity too long so I didn't. I can't wait to go back and just hang out, floating, in space. AMAZING!"
Space is an unfathomably diverse place, filled with wonders and discoveries for even the most intrepid and well-travelled Frontier volunteer. Take our rocket, Rivington One in to the cosmos and do something incredible with your gap year. Seas of methane, towering ice geysers and the red planet awaits!
Europa Sampling Expedition
Soar through the vacuum and touch down on one of Jupiter's moons, Europa, to sample the icy surface for extra-terrestrial life! Maybe you'll be the first to discover a sample of an ancient life-form and forever engrave your name in to the history books.
"I went for two years since it takes that long to get there and back. It was really cold and we didn't find anything."
Interstellar Development Project: Mars
This isn't Total Recall, this is the real deal! Live life on the red planet and work alongside our partner NGO to help develop the universe's first intergalactic science and space exploration port on stellar soil. You'll live side-by-side with some of Earth's cutting edge scientists and engineers, learn all there is to know about a dead, dust covered rock aimlessly orbiting our sun, and make tons of new friends!
"I chose this project because my favourite colour is red. I wasn't disappointed."
PADI Extra-terrestrial: Titan
If you're looking for a new challenge in diving, here it is! Get qualified to dive in pools of liquid hydrocarbons in search of whatever there might be hidden in the murky depths.
"I'll never forget my time on Titan. The smog was so dense I couldn't see my dive watch even out of the methane swamp, and the smell - I'll never forget the smell! One piece of advice I would give anyone thinking of going on the Titan project is 'don't drink the water'."
Read more articles like this on our blog 'Into the Wild'.