This article was Written by Tim Chrisman, founder and executive director of Foundation for The Future.
American astronomer Edwin Hubble was born on November 20, 1889. After an early career as a high school teacher, he would go on to become a leading figure in the fields of extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology. Responsible for some of the most groundbreaking discoveries of a generation, Hubble is best known today for the Hubble Space Telescope, launched into low Earth orbit, and named for him in 1990.
In the 131 years since Hubble was born, we have seen miraculous progress in the field of space exploration beyond what the leading scientific figures of his era could have imagined. Dedicating his life to observational and theoretical study, Hubble would die eight years before the first man launched into space. Today that same technology and dream of space exploration is powering future Mars missions.
Hubble inspired millions to look to the skies and see possibilities never considered before. Today, as the technology of space exploration grows even more ambitious, there are still mystical misconceptions surrounding space exploration. For some, its futuristic possibilities feel out of reach. At Foundation for the Future, we’re working towards a future where space is open to everyone – a future where space travel, exploration, and study is commonplace.
In terms of how space technology will progress in the next 131 years, it’s hard to even imagine. But there are some advancements we can almost guarantee we will see over the next century. The first is relativistic-speed spacecraft, meaning spaceships that can approach 25-50 percent of the speed of light. We are also likely to see a billion plus people living throughout the solar system, including on asteroids and free-flying habitats. In addition, Mars terraforming. Whether we genetically engineer humans to survive on Mars, or engineer Mars to be fit for humans, the red planet will be habitable by the end of this century.
In the shorter term, progress won’t be as unbelievable as a lunar colony. Within three to five years we should see a transition from a largely government-funded space economy, to one with nearly a trillion dollars in private equity. This will mark a huge advancement from the 100 percent government funding of 20 years ago. Looking at the next decade, the biggest advancement we can expect will be human self-sufficiency in the space between Earth and the Moon. Progressing from tentative explorers in the Apollo missions, to house hunters through the Artemis program, soon we will be actual owners. To reach this point, humans will need to be nearly self-sufficient with fuel refining, oxygen and water production, food cultivation and habitat engineering.
As well as these big-picture projections, we can also expect to see a focus on the development of new technologies, including a space elevator. If we look at this project like nothing humanity has ever attempted and one that will yield positive benefits to the economy at all stages of development, then we cannot help but attempt it. While early attempts at new technologies for space exploration like this may almost certainly fail, we must remember that the first dozen spy satellites did not get off the ground and it wasn’t until Apollo 11 that we made it to the moon.
By investing in this planet-to-space transportation system, industries as varied as computer screens, airplanes and tires will all reap the high-tech benefits. From new jobs to new sources of manufacturing and new materials to green energy sources, the benefits will be felt long before the first prototype is a success. In the attempt, we all win.
Tim Chrisman is the founder and executive director of Foundation for The Future (climb2.space ), author of Humanity in Space, a look at the future of the second century of human spaceflight, and former Army Special Operations officer. Foundation for The Future is focused on the creation of a secure, sustainable, and efficient gateway to outer space.