The mysteries of outer space – how far has science advanced

Space exploration. 

For years and years, people have asked age-old questions about outer space. Is there life in other planets? How is the moon? How far away are the stars really? While all these questions cannot be fully answered, scientists have been able to take giant steps towards at least partially solving some of the mysteries of outer space. The universe is so vast and so far removed from humanity that it requires some really high-tech equipment along with highly trained personnel to explore it.  


The most talked about planet, as far as life on other planets is concerned, is Mars. From old shows and movies, aliens or “little green men” have been depicted to show life on Mars. There are many theories floating around the internet about aliens being real; and, sure enough, countless blockbusters about aliens. In fact, there is no “known” concrete proof that such aliens exist on Mars or any other planet. For any form of life to exist on Mars or other planets, certain resources must be available. Sources like water, energy like the sun, and organic compounds (like carbon) must be available for life to be possible.

Scientists have ruled out most known planets as possibilities. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune consist mostly of gases, and Mercury and Venus reach temperatures of up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The most likely candidate is Mars, which is what scientists are focusing on the most. 

NASA started sending astronauts into outer space on rockets to explore and bring back information that could help mankind. Some information was obtained through satellites, but science wanted to go further. Many had long dreamed of putting a man on the moon. In fact, John F. Kennedy wanted this to happen, but unfortunately for him, he was assassinated before it actually happened, in 1969, as part of the Apollo program.

The first “spacewalk” was in 1965 during the Gemini flight by astronaut Edward White. Sadly, just two years later, just as he was about to make his next flight into space, he died in a terrible fire on Apollo 1 with two other people while doing a “plugs-out” test. The flight was supposed to take place next month.

Curiosity is the perfect name for this rover. The name was chosen through a writing contest, in which a 12-year-old girl from an elementary school in Kansas won. Curiosity is the size of an automobile that was launched in November 2011 and landed on Mars in August 2012. Originally thought to be a two-year mission, in December 2012 it was extended indefinitely. Their mission objectives included determining whether life ever existed on Mars, as well as studying its climate, geology, and aquatic substances. Some high-tech equipment is onboard Curiosity, including cameras and communications devices to send back data that scientists use to advance our understanding of what really exists in space.

In addition to sending Curiosity to Mars, NASA wanted a more hands-on approach. While many safety improvements have been made since the late 1960s, when Edward White and his fellow astronauts died, a much better approach would be to send a non-human person. As technology increased, the Robonaut (R1) and Robonaut2 (R2) were developed. Robonaut2 has the ability to use its hands like humans do, with the ability to grab tools and manipulate them to do repairs and all sorts of other related tasks. Robonaut2 was launched in February 2011 and sent to the International Space Station (ISS). In 2014, Robonaut2 was updated with legs; however, these new legs created some problems that NASA did not expect and was not immediately aware of. There was an electrical problem that caused the power supply to fail intermittently. When they tried to diagnose, they were actually causing more electrical shorts, which they were, at the time, unaware of. After seven years in space, NASA packed it up and sent it back to Earth for repairs, which was in May 2018. 

Other ways of obtaining information about outer space is through the use of telescopes, some of which are huge. The Kepler telescope has been in operation since 2009. Its job is to look for similar planets, like Earth, that are outside our solar system. The results were surprising, estimated at one planet for every star in our galaxy.  

There are other types of telescopes in various places in the United States and around the world that are technologically advanced for observing outer space from Earth. One of them is called the Minerva Telescope.

Another telescope that claims to be the largest telescope in the world is called the FAST telescope, which is located in China. Construction began in 2011 and in 2016 it saw its first light. In 2017, it discovered two new pulsars, and 44 more pulsars as of September 2018. For various reasons, the FAST telescope is not operating at full capacity, so hopes for what this huge telescope can do are not yet fulfilled.

Another huge optical telescope is located on top of a huge mountain in Mount Graham, Arizona. This telescope is one of the most advanced in the world, with all kinds of mirrors and other high-tech devices for observing outer space. The project is a joint venture called “Project Columbus” and the telescope was originally named “LUCIFER” but was shortened to Luci. The letters represent (L) large near-infrared binocular telescope, (U) utility with, (C) camera, and, (I) integral, (F) field unit for, (E) extragalactic, (R) research. The telescope was fully operational in 2008. In 2017, it was able to observe the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft during its route.

“To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

With all the technological advances and upgrades, who knows what mysteries will be unraveled and discovered in the future. Only time will tell.