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Futures: 50 Years in Space

The Challenge of the Stars

extracts from the book
by David A Hardy and Patrick Moore

"Dedicated to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia, who died during re-entry on 1 February, 2003. They accepted the challenge and the risks, but their wish was for their dreams, and ours, to become reality."

David Hardy's space art is unique. He creates his own special kind of virtual reality; through his astounding vision and technique we glimpse landscapes in worlds where man has never set foot. One of my most treasured possessions is a painting by David Hardy of a total eclipse in Chile which we attended together. It captures the awesome beauty of the occasion far better than any photograph I have seen. So it is in these pages, where, through David's visionary art, we clearly 'see' the beginnings of the fulfilment of man's dreams of space.

Futures is a fitting testament to David's long-standing collaboration with Sir Patrick Moore, who, through his record-breaking "The Sky at Night" BBC series, has inspired generations of astronomers. In the pages of this wonderful book these two men take us out to the stars...and beyond.

...Dr Brian May, Queen guitarist and astronomer

Pages 6-7

OVERVIEW; 1954-2004

The twentieth century was the Age of Futures: 50 Years in SpaceChallenge. In 1903 came the first manned flight in a heavier-than-air machine; in 1926 came the first liquid-fuelled rocket; there followed the first flights above the main atmosphere of the Earth, and then, in 1961, the pioneer flight of the first spaceman, Yuri Gagarin. By 2000, men had reached the Moon and unmanned spacecraft had surveyed all the planets apart from remote Pluto. All this was a prelude to what may well be the Age of Achievement -- the twenty-first century.

When we -- Patrick Moore and David A. Hardy -- first discussed the idea of a book to be called The Challenge of the Stars, as long ago as 1954, we hoped that we could make forecasts with reasonable accuracy. First, an orbiting space-station and then an expedition to the Moon, establishing a base, small at first but growing steadily. Building upon the lunar experience, humankind would send an expedition to Mars, perhaps setting up a base there too. Jupiter's satellites and the outer Solar System would be the next targets and perhaps, eventually, the stars.

Our schedule seemed logical enough, and the Moon was indeed reached in 1969, before most people had expected. But thereafter things did not go entirely according to our plan. By the time the first edition of The Challenge of the Stars was published, in 1972, humanity was about to go to the Moon for the last time it would do so in the 20th century, in Apollo 17. For motives that were political rather than scientific, the USA had chosen to visit the Moon first in a single, expendable vehicle. True, a year later NASA did put Skylab into orbit, and this was in effect a space-station, but it was not intended to be permanent, and it was not developed. Russia (then the USSR) followed with Salyut and Mir, and by the end of the century the International Space Station (ISS) was under construction, but even now there are no firm plans or commitments to send people back to the moon or set out for Mars.

moon landing

There seems to be a 'window of opportunity' within which humans can choose whether or not to become a spacefaring race while we still have the knowledge, the means and the resources to do so. Sadly, this window seems to be closing at an increasing rate. We hope that in some small way our book will act as an optimistic reminder of what lies out in space, waiting for our exploration -- and even exploitation, as in minerals from the Moon and asteroids, together with the advantages of solar power. Moreover, if we have the foresight and will to make it happen, it will amaze, excite, and enrich the lives of the next generations: your children and your children's children.

Remember the words of that great visionary, Arthur C. Clarke, written in 1968, when the outlook seemed so promising:

The challenge of the great spaces between the worlds is a stupendous one, but if we fail to meet it, the story of our race will be drawing to a close. Humanity will have turned its back upon the still untrodden heights and will be descending again the long slope that stretches, across a thousand million years of time, down to the shores of the primaeval sea.

Having said that, the fifty years between our first visions and today's reality have seen the most amazing discoveries and advances in astronomy as well as in space technology. In 1954 photography had yet to be superseded by electronic devices, and some of the ideas then current seem very old-fashioned today. the canals of MarsThe brilliant, canal-building Martians of Percival Lowell had been consigned to the realm of myth, but Mars was still believed to have vast tracts of vegetation. Venus might have jungles, or oceans of soda-water; Saturn was the only ringed planet, and we knew nothing about the volcanoes of Io, the lava-flows on Venus, geysers on Triton or the amazing diversity of the moons of the outer planets. Neutron stars, quasars, pulsars and black holes were not only unknown, but mainly unsuspected, while estimates of the age of the universe as we know it were little more than guesswork.

Thanks to the probes such as the Mariners, the Veneras, the Vikings and the Voyagers, we have learned a great deal since then, and the developments in instrumentation have been truly staggering. In 1954 the world's largest telescope, the 200-inch Hale reflector at Palomar in California, was in a class of its own. Today it is regarded as being of no more than medium size, and we have of course the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), soaring high above the main part of the Earth's atmosphere.

The second edition of The Challenge of the Stars, published in 1978, did include many changes; the sky of Mars had become orange-pink rather than dark blue, and Titan, Saturn's main satellite, was very different from what we then envisaged. But when we came to prepare this new version, Futures, we realized that the developments between 1954 and 1978 were in no way to be compared with those between 1978 and 2004. It seems that almost every week brings its quota of new discoveries -- and space art, as well as space science, has moved with the times.

Just as the images from space are now gathered or processed electronically or digitally, many of the new illustrations for this book were produced on an AppleMac. (This does not mean, though, that they are 'computer-generated', Although this method of working has undoubtedly speeded up the process of illustration, pushing paint around on art board or canvas has mainly been replaced by pushing pixels around on a monitor!)

surface of a planet orbiting a pulsar

Pages 20-21


The problem for telescopes of the 1950s was that Mars never comes much within 35 million miles of us, and they could never show it more clearly than a view of the Moon with good binoculars. The first successful Mars probe, Mariner 4, did not fly past the planet until 1965. One feature it recorded is visible with Earth-based telescopes as a tiny speck, and was named Nix Olympica, the 'Olympic Snow'; it was assumed to be a large crater. Only when Mars could be seen from much closer range was it found that the feature is in fact a giant volcano, three times the height of Everest. It is now known as Olympus Mons -- Mount Olympus -- and is believed to be the highest and most massive volcano anywhere in the Solar System. Whether it is extinct, dormant or even mildly active is a matter for debate.

All our ideas about Mars had to be drastically revised in 1971, the year we had our first views of the huge volcanoes and the systems of canyons. Then came the two Vikings, which were launched in August 1975 and reached Mars in mid-1976. One of their main tasks was to search for life, and this involved making controlled landings; the Lander was separated from the Orbiter and brought down to the surface, slowed down partly by rocket braking and partly by parachute. Tenuous though it is, with a ground pressure below 10 millibars everywhere, the Martian atmosphere is substantial enough to make parachutes useful.

Both landings were successful. Viking 1 came down in the 'Golden Plain' of Chryse, 20 degrees north of the equator (10th June) and Viking 2 landed in the more northerly plain of Utopia (7th August). Excellent images were sent back, relayed by the Orbiter. Rocks were everywhere; the sky was yellowish-pink, rather than dark blue as had been expected, and windspeeds were gentle. Temperatures were of course very low -- far below freezing point. One NASA investigator, Garry Hunt, produced a wry weather forecast for Mars: "Fine and sunny; very cold; winds light and variable; further outlook similar." Not surprisingly, he proved to be completely accurate! Dust storms do occur, and can be global, but in general the atmosphere is very clear.

future manned exploration of Mars

Each Lander was equipped with a 'grab' -- basically a scoop with a movable lid, which could collect surface material and draw it back into the main spacecraft, where it could be analyzed in what was to all intents and purposes a tiny but highly efficient laboratory. There were three experiments, all designed to detect biological activity. The results were decidedly puzzling, but in the end they were generally regarded as negative, and there was no firm evidence of life of any kind.

Throughout the twentieth century all the useful results from Mars missions have come from American spacecraft. The Soviet Union launched its first Mars probe as early as 1961, and others followed. But even today the Russians have had no success; all their Mars spacecraft have failed for one reason or another. This is all the more surprising in view of their excellent results from Venus, which logically would be expected to pose far more difficult problems.

Obviously, manned flight to Mars must be many orders of magnitude more hazardous than a trip to the Moon. The astronauts must endure months of weightlessness and there is, perhaps above all, the danger from radiation; to provide adequate protection on a spacecraft is very difficult indeed. Neither are we yet sure whether the thin Martian atmosphere will be of any real use as a radiation screen.

Yet the Viking results were encouraging enough for NASA to press ahead with a design for the first Martian base. It would be primitive, but it would be essential, because the astronauts would have to spend some months on Mars before it and Earth were suitably placed for the return journey. Walking about in the open with no protection apart from warm clothing and an oxygen-cylinder, as envisaged only a few decades earlier, was known to be out of the question because of the unexpectedly low atmospheric pressure. Blood would boil inside the body, causing a quick but unpleasant death. Full pressure-suits must be worn all the time, and, naturally, any base must be very effectively airtight and pressurized.

In the 1970s it was still thought that the polar caps were very thin, possibly no more than a surface layer of solid carbon dioxide; only much later was it found that the caps are thick, and made up of water ice. We are also sure that even away from the poles there is a great deal of underground ice, so that future colonists will never be short of water. In this respect Mars is much more co-operative than the Moon.

In 1972 it was thought that the first manned expeditions might set off before the end of the century. This has not happened, but it will indeed be strange if attempts are not made during the next few tens of years, and will lead on eventually to permanent bases. It is very likely that 'the first man on Mars' has already been born!

Sir Patrick Moore, OBE, FRS

Text and images © David A Hardy and Patrick Moore 2004.

Futures: 50 Years in Space
Futures: 50 Years in Space is published by AAPPL (Artists' and Photographers' Press Ltd, May 2004, ISBN: 1904332137).

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