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The Seraphim

The final frontier

Exploring our future in space

Taken by the Hubble Telescope, this picture features purely galaxies, each containing billions of stars. 
(Photo: NASA)

Taken by the Hubble Telescope, this picture features purely galaxies, each containing billions of stars. (Photo: NASA)

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“I’m taking a trip with my family to Mars.”

This sentence may be heard in the coming years. As humans become increasingly technologically advanced, dreams of life on another planet or solar system are becoming achievable.

Man has always viewed the heavens with wonder. Ancient astronomers meticulously tracked the movements of stars and star patterns. Renaissance men and women developed tools to study the sky with greater accuracy. In the 20th century, man broke the barrier and walked into the vast expanse of space. And in the current century, NDP students have their eye on the skies as well.

NDP has its own Astronomy class, offered as a year-long elective science course. Taught by Mrs. Wojtysiak, students, typically juniors and seniors, study the wonders of the cosmos.

Senior Cassie McSorley signed up for the class because of her interest in stars.

“I’ve always loved looking up at the night sky. Seeing the stars every night is comforting in a sort of way. Space has so much mystery to it and I wanted to learn more,” she said.

Man has always grappled with various questions about space, and more recently, have attempted to answer “what-ifs”. These questions, such as “What if we could travel to other planets” or “What if an artificial intelligence becomes too smart” are explored in various space movies. Check out this list of the top space movies that have influenced society’s perception of space exploration. (Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Man has always grappled with various questions about space, and, more recently, have attempted to answer “what-ifs.” These questions, such as “What if we could travel to other planets?” or “What if an artificial intelligence becomes too smart?” are explored in various space movies. Check out this list of the top space movies that have influenced society’s perception of space exploration.
(Photo/Lucasfilm Ltd.)

In the current day, the difference when man first walked on the moon to today’s capabilities is vast.

With space colonization on the horizon, “space tourism” is a phase to include in your vocabulary. As NASA faces depleted funds, private companies funded by billionaires, such as Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, are becoming the norm. The cost to fund these projects will be in the millions, or even billions, but this growing industry has already left the flight track, according to the Space Foundation’s 2015 Space Report.

SpaceX is one company that has recently made headlines being the first commercial company to send astronauts to the International Space Station. According to the SpaceX website, the company was “founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.”

Private Companies in Space

One of the forces of the growth of space exploration will be the privatization of the space industry. Companies funded by large sums are increasingly not associated with NASA or national governments.

According to a Gale Student Resources article, the private space industry has not grown entirely in the hands of billionaires. In the U.S., President Obama’s administration has encouraged private development in space travel manufacturing after modifying the nation’s space exploration program. Interest in the private sector has steadily increased since then.

The article states that the commercialization of space travel creates competition between companies. It reasons that when competition occurs, more become employed, and more brain power is put to use to advance space technology. NDP’s Astronomy teacher Kandi Wojtysiak said, “Competition is a good thing!”

She also says that the growth of private companies brings some controversy.

Mrs. Wojtysiak said, “More accidents will probably occur because those companies are not bound by government standards.”

These businesses will not be subject to strict government regulations. Unless legislation is passed, these companies are currently under their own control. Some, such as Mrs. Wojtysiak, question the integrity of these start-up companies, wondering whether they are trustworthy.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX. (Photo: AP/Jae C. Hong)

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX.
(Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Accidents may push people away from considering to invest in the private sector. However, according to the Space Foundation’s 2014 report, commercial activity in the space industry has increased 27 percent from 2008 to 2013.

The Space Industry Workforce

Even though space technologies and possibilities are rapidly expanding, the space industry workforce is shrinking.

The Space Race in the 20th century gave rise to many engineers and scientists who joined the space industry eager to support their nation. However, these early space pioneers are now reaching retirement age.

According to the 2014 Space Report, “At of the start of fiscal year 2014, the number of NASA employees eligible to retire at any moment was greater than the number of employees under 35.”

As current employees begin to retire, the industry will have a hard time finding those who can replace the technical talent.

However, much more emphasis is being put on STEM–Science, Technology, Engineering, Math–education nationwide.

NDP’s own Robotics Club–traditionally comprised of all boys–has had girls join its ranks in the past few years.

There is also a search for more women in the workforce, as the industry has been traditionally male-dominated.

This should not come off as a warning to young people looking for a future working in the space industry. Rather, these facts pose a bright outlook for young people entering the job market.

As more and more employees retire, a greater demand will be placed on young people to enter the workforce. Young adults will be able to find plenty of spots and opportunities available to engage in the space industry.

NDP alumni Katie Pflueger recently finished working on a senior design project that deals with humidity in space suits. She said, “The outlook for the space industry is a very exciting one.  There is so much being developed and always new areas to be explored.”


Katie Pflueger is front row, far right. This is her team’s senior research project.

Katie Pflueger, is front row, far right. This is her team’s senior research project at the University of Arizona.

Her project team was recently contacted by the Discovery Channel, which praised the UA Design Day 2016 and said it was considering sending a film crew this summer for a segment on their “Humidity Control in Space Suits” project.

On SpaceX’s career spots, there are plenty of positions open, from locations ranging from California to Washington, D.C., and job titles from “Avionics Radiation Effects Engineer” to “Business Intelligence Engineer.

Depending on what career is pursued, one can expect a higher pay range, most likely in the six digits. For aerospace engineers, the starting salary is $70,000 annually. For senior strategists, the pay is $180,000, according to Indeed.com.

Military in Space

Space is not only becoming commercialized, but also militarized. Military involvement in space has been around since the first Space Race, when the United States and USSR competed against each other as part of the Cold War.

Today, military involvement in space currently revolves around the use of global positioning systems. GPS determines one’s precise location and offers accurate information in time reference. GPS works on a system of satellites which orbit the Earth and every second provide a constant stream of information.

According to GPS.gov, the U.S. Department of Defense currently maintains about 31 satellites in space. The GPS system is free of charge and can be used by anyone.

Grant Kaufman, father to senior Parker Kaufman, served in the army for 25 years. He said, “GPS is how far the military is involved in space right now. NASA is what mostly handles the U.S. interests in space, not the military.”

There is a treaty currently recognized by multiple countries that set boundaries on country involvement in space. According to the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, the Outer Space Treaty was signed in 1967 and provided a basic framework of space law.

Main points include the ban of weapons of mass destruction being in orbit, on the Moon or in space in general; the free use of space of all countries for peaceful and exploratory purposes as well as the ban of military bases, tests or fortifications in space.

A country is also not allowed to claim a certain celestial object, as they are all the “common heritage of mankind.”

The current number of countries that adhere to the treaty is 104. Another 24 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification, according to UNOOSA’s website.

Human Colonization

If humanity’s efforts prove fruitful, colonization on other planets, such as Mars, could begin in 2027, said Stephen Petranek, a technology forecaster. The writer and scientist discussed the five major needs a human requires to live on another planet in his TED talk: food, water, shelter, clothing, and oxygen.

He said that all five components could be taken care of, as sufficient technology exists already. The only problem is that there is currently no rocket strong enough to take people to Mars–an idea popularized by the movie The Martian, starring Matt Damon.

Another setback, according to a Universe Today article by Matt Williams, is that living on Mars would require many adjustments to normal life. The gravity on Mars is 60 percent less than on Earth. A NASA study reports that the relationship between humans and a lack of gravity can result in loss of muscle and bone density in the long run.

Williams said that Mars’s surface temperature is also a challenge, as typical temperatures in one given day range from 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) to -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).

Another major problem according to Williams is the fact that Mars has a thin atmosphere with a faint global magnetic field. Normally, a global magnetic field protects a planet from strong solar radiation assisted by its atmosphere, as is the case on Earth.

He continues to say that these challenges do not make Mars impossible to colonize. Mars does have its own benefits, such vast expanses of water in the form of ice and soil that could be used to create brick buildings. Plants could also survive on Mars, given the right conditions, and eventually even out the toxic atmosphere.

According to the article, the most promising way to colonize Mars would be to employ the use of terraforming, also known as geoengineering. By introducing cyanobacteria and phytoplankton, these organisms could convert the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into oxygen.

Figuring how to live on the dangerous environment of Mars will still require years of research and testing. NDP students will be full-grown adults by the time a man-missioned trip to Mars occurs.

A private mission called MarsOne hopes to send one-way passengers to Mars by 2026, according to its website.

Artist’s conception of Mars One settlement. (Photo: Bryan Versteeg)

Artist’s conception of Mars One settlement. (Photo/Bryan Versteeg)

Would NDP students take the trip?

Senior Cole Hicks said, “I definitely would not. I would only travel to Mars if I was 100 percent sure I would be able to return to Earth.”

However, finding humans to travel to Mars does not look like a challenge for MarsOne, which has already thousands of applicants for its mission, according to its “about” page.

Other authorities like Stephen Hawking claim that human colonization on other planets won’t occur for at least 100 years.

According to a BBC article, Hawking states that human colonization is essential for the survival of the human race. Due to further progress in science and technology, humans are creating a greater risk of self-annihilation, he warns.

Other Life in Space

As humans venture into the mysterious abyss of space, one question comes to mind that is difficult to avoid.

Are we alone in the universe or are there other intelligent life forms that populate their own planets?

In ancient times, Earth was believed to be the center of the universe. To Aristotle, everything revolved around the Earth, including the sun. The possibility of another “world” would not fit his theory, as he deduced that there was not enough space for another world.

This theory was undisputed until the medieval ages, when some European scholars, such as Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno, allowed God into the picture. They theorized that since God is omnipotent, then He could easily create other worlds with other inhabitants as well.

Fr. John Parks, NDP chaplain, spoke of the Church’s stance on extraterrestrial life.

He said, “I know of no document that excludes the possibility of life on other planets. The church is certainly open to intelligent life on other planets and what scientists may find.”

Belief in extraterrestrial life grew towards the second half of the 20th century, spurred on by scientific conclusions of the the vastness of the universe. However, something did not add up.

In the 1950s, Italian scientist Enrico Fermi posed the question “Where is everybody?”, while talking with other scientists in a conversation about extraterrestrials. The everybody in question is other intelligent life forms. If the universe is so vast, and has potential for other intelligent life forms, why hasn’t humankind encountered any aliens yet?

Scientist Enrico Fermi. (Photo: National Archives)

Scientist Enrico Fermi. (Photo/National Archives)

This question, called the Fermi paradox, is the contradiction between the scientific high probability estimates that extraterrestrial life exists and the lack of any actual evidence that extraterrestrials are actually out there.

There are many explanations to try to solve the paradox, ranging from humans not having the correct technology to aliens purposely not contacting Earth.

Whatever the reason is, many efforts are in progress today to find alien life.

The Kepler Mission, sponsored by NASA, attempts to find habitable planets that humans could one day live on. According to its website, the spacecraft orbits the sun while its telescope takes in a specific section of the galaxy. The effort sifts through thousands of stars to find a potential planet.

According to NASA, the mission, as of July 2015, has found 4,696 candidate planets that could qualify as habitable planets. The problem is that finding a planet like Earth with habitable conditions is extremely rare. The planet would usually have to exist in a “Goldilocks” zone in relation to its star. If a planet is too close to its star, it will be too hot on the planet, but if it is too far, then it will be too cold.

Another organization is the nonprofit SETI Institute, based in California. SETI stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. According to the organization’s website, its mission is to “explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe, and to apply the knowledge gained to inspire and guide present and future generations.”

The institute said that it is mostly funded by private donations and NASA grants, and promotes STEM education. The SETI researchers use both optical and radio telescope systems to search for signals from intelligent life forms.

The search for aliens as of now, has produced no concrete results, only speculations and statistics.

Some argue that the government has covered up any contact that has been made with extraterrestrials. In a 2011 petition addressed to President Obama, the Paradigm Research Group demanded that the U.S. government disclose any evidence of alien contact.

In a multi-paragraphed response, the White House refuted any claim that they had any contact. It said: “The fact is we have no credible evidence of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth.”

Could there be life somewhere in this picture? (Photo: NASA)

Could there be life somewhere in this picture?

However, many scientists suggest against contacting extraterrestrials at all. Stephen Hawking has repeatedly warned against this.

According to a Space.com article, he says that by looking at human history, contact between technologically advanced and disadvantaged people has often been disastrous.

If an alien civilization that was billions of years ahead contacted Earth, chances are the aliens would see humans at the same level we see bacteria. The aliens would most likely exploit Earth for its resources and then move on, he said.

Now at the end of senior year, McSorley said she has had a positive experience in astronomy.

“After taking my astronomy class, I’ve realized that we have only scratched the tip of what really is space,” she said. “There is so much yet to discover in the enormous thing we call the Universe, and I’m excited to see what my generation will be witness to in the coming years.”

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The final frontier