What’s next for space travel? Maybe a road trip

While the space shuttle era officially ended early Thursday morning as Atlantis landed for the last time at Kennedy Space Center, the next chapter in American space flight has yet to be written. One vision of what’s next for space travel over the next 20 to 30 years includes an efficient network of refueling stations, communication points and satellites throughout the solar system.

“We’re closing a chapter in the history of our nation,” said astronaut Ronald Garan, a flight engineer stationed on the International Space Station. “In the future when another spacecraft docks to that hatch. . . we are going to be opening a new era and raising the flag on a new era of exploration” reported the Miami Herald.

At Purdue University, one of the most NASA-connected campuses in America, researchers are developing ways to design a galactic gas pump that can move fuel from one tank to another in zero gravity and create a network or “exploration infrastructure” across the solar system.

“The post-shuttle era is not the end of NASA space exploration, it’s just the end of shuttle missions. This is just a transition,” Purdue professor Steven Collicott told JCOnline. Collicott’s research on zero-gravity physics could play a major role in the design of futuristic refueling stations.

In this vision, 30 years from now, astronauts will routinely work throughout the solar system,
stopping at an efficient network of refueling stations, communication points and satellites while gathering samples, running robots on planets, moons and asteroids, and reporting back to Houston.

Developing a system that works for both robotic and manned missions, the “exploration infrastructure” would include outposts dedicated to communications, logistics, repair and resupply.

It does sound a bit like getting ready for a road trip though. “Play your route wisely”, “Prepare your vehicle” and “Pack the right stuff” are recommendations on Gadling’s 20 tips for surviving a summer road trip, courtesy of touring musicians.

One not on our list that NASA could add: Get a guarantee on that funding.

Flickr photo by ksgr

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