Saturday, July 20, marks the 50th anniversary of the first landing on the moon. Every day this week, News@Northeastern will look at the technological breakthroughs, the political decisions, and the feats of daring that made the landing possible; the lunar landing itself; and what the future might hold for space exploration. Here, Northeastern students and faculty reflect on the role of humanoid robots in deep space exploration, sending humans to Mars, and the need for reusable spacecraft.
Overall, the international space community has figured out how to do robotics missions. The next big frontier is to focus more on crewed missions. Even though we have all of these robots, with all sorts of capabilities, we haven’t gotten the full glimpse of what we can do or learn from human missions. The future moon and Mars human missions will be big drivers in the foreseeable future.
I like to tell myself that space exploration is the next big thing for people. Exploring the solar system, manned exploration, unmanned exploration—these are the things that we’re going to look back at in 100 years and remember that they were important. I think space matters and I love being a part of that.
When we get the Mars 2020 selfie from Mars, my hardware is going to be there in the middle of the picture. Stuff that I’ve touched, worked with. It’s something I’m still awestruck about.
I’d say crewed space exploration is worth it. One example is Apollo 11. Everybody remembers that and we celebrate that. But we don’t typically celebrate the first robot on the moon—and I don’t think that should be underrated.
There’s been a shift toward commercial space flights. It seems to me that a lot of the crewed space missions, in particular the ones in Earth’s orbit, are going to be more and more commercialized. NASA is working with commercial partners, and there are already a lot of companies trying to get in on that, from Virgin Galactic to Blue Origin.
I think sustainability is an important trend that I would like to see the space industry embrace. Rockets that can land more than once is one example of a way that we can make space travel more sustainable. Early on, we had the space shuttle, which could be used for multiple flights, and now we have these SpaceX crafts that can land on a barge. I’ve seen some definite promise toward the trend, especially in terms of reusable space crafts, but I want to see it happen quicker.