Can you imagine visiting another planet?
Or even living on one? If it were possible, would you choose to do it?
For many, space is a symbol of endless possibilities. Every year, scientists discover new planets with environments unlike anything they could have imagined. We know these distant bodies have the potential to revolutionize science and make many people rich. The biggest question is do they also have the potential to sustain human life? There are currently two big ideas about how humans could physically interact with space: space tourism and colonization.
Space tourism is already a growing industry. There are companies that let regular people experience space for fun. The biggest problem with space tourism right now is that it is incredibly expensive. But for a price, people can pay to experience space-like conditions. One of the cheapest options is called a zero-gravity flight. It uses a Boeing 727, a large airplane, to simulate the zero-gravity experience of space. Tourists can flip and float for about 20 minutes, thanks to the freefalling airplane. It is like space, but tourists don’t leave the atmosphere. One of these experiences costs around $5,000 per person. A one-week stay in space is $20 million. For now, only the very wealthy can afford these trips, but that used to be the same for cars. The more popular space trips become, the cheaper the technologies will get and the more people will be able to experience space.
Colonizing space is different than space tourism. It’s relatively easy to keep a human alive in space for a short period of time; it is much harder the longer they stay off planet Earth. Most of the plans for colonization are focused on Mars because it is our closest neighbor. One of the most popular ideas about how to colonize Mars involves 3D printing. Instead of making everything on Earth and launching it all to Mars, the idea is to send a printer and use materials on Mars to make whatever the astronauts and colonists need. It is a much cheaper option and allows the colonists the opportunity to change designs based on what they learn. It will still take decades of planning and hard