Steven Epps & Monique Maxwell
(Buffalo, N.Y.) – Space exploration has been a trending topic lately, with a number of interesting announcements and discoveries making news in recent weeks.
For example, SpaceX, the private space exploration technology company, announced Feb. 27 it is planning to send two people on a mission to the moon.
This could be the first of many potential projects that could revolutionize the way people view space exploration, according Dr. Kevin Williams, associate professor of earth sciences at SUNY Buffalo State. He appeared on the Buffalo Review (March 6) to share some knowledge on space exploration.
“I guess one of the issues with space exploration is that there is always failure,” said Williams. “I think it’s an ambitious plan to be able to launch those two folks next year.”
Williams said he believes that we could easily get to the moon or Mars if we wanted, because we have the technology. However, he said money plays a crucial role in preventing us from visiting our cosmic neighbors.
Additionally, NASA announced Feb. 22 the discovery of seven Earth-like planets orbiting a red dwarf star 40-light-years away. Three of those planets are within the habitable zone of the star, named TRAPPIST-1, according to NASA.
Naturally, this raises the question of whether there is other life in the universe, which Williams said is becoming more and more likely, at least in some form.
However, humans don’t presently have the capability to visit the TRAPPIST-1 solar system, as it would take thousands of years to get there.
“It would require a multiple generational mission, which is where you have a group of people launched toward a target and then they have kids and their kids have kids and those kids have kids, because with the current technology it takes 10-years to get to Pluto,” said Williams.
NASA also recently announced plans to send a probe towards the sun for the first time, which Williams described as “the most important object in (our) solar system.”
He said, knowing the many different ways to observe the sun can benefit us because of how powerful and useful the sun is. The sun produces light and heat, but also “dangerous eruptions of charged particles,” which this mission could help to monitor the dangers, said Williams.
Finally, it has been reported that a group of scientists hope to have Pluto reclassified as a planet, which was demoted to a “dwarf planet” in 2006.
The scientists working on the New Horizons mission have created a new definition for a planet, which has been submitted to the International Astronomical Union for approval. The new definition would create more than 100 new planets.
“You can’t believe all the headlines you see,” said Williams. “I think it’s silly.”
However, Williams said he thinks these recent news items are important to keep people interested and excited in science.
He said media representations of space travel in other types of media, such as film and television, could help fuel future discoveries in the solar system.
* Karla Weidenboerner contributed to this story.