Modern technologies have allowed humans to access even the most remote areas of Earth’s surface. Satellites, submarines and remotely piloted drones now traverse our world from the depths of the ocean to the thin reaches of the upper atmosphere. But our species’ future in space has only just begun. As advances in design and computing continue to push the limits of human potential, visionaries, entrepreneurs and government agencies are making plans for mankind’s future among the stars. Here are six bold designs to further human progress in outer space.
1. Thoth Technology Space Elevator
In July 2015, the Canadian company Thoth Technology secured a US patent for a space elevator tower designed to lift spacecraft to the upper reaches of Earth’s stratosphere. If constructed, the tower would stand 20km high and support a platform for launching and landing spacecrafts. Unlike ‘traditional’ space elevator designs, which lift material to space via a cable anchored to a geosynchronous satellite, Thoth Technology’s plan seeks to make space travel easier and more affordable by cutting out 12 vertical miles of the journey to space.
2. Space Farm to Table
Earlier this year, astronauts aboard the International Space Station got a taste of the first fresh produce ever to be grown, harvested and eaten in space. Part of NASA’s Veg-01 mission, the fresh romaine lettuce was grown from ‘seed pillows’ under LED lighting arrays. This programme is the first step in what NASA hopes will be a vital part of future long-duration missions—providing a sustainable food source and psychological benefits for space explorers and colonists far from home.
3. Airships Over Venus
Dubbed HAVOC, NASA’s High Altitude Venus Operational Concept is a new plan for a manned mission to the solar system’s second planet using a fleet of futuristic airships. Unlike the planet’s surface, where temperatures often exceed 460°C, the upper atmosphere of Venus is less hostile, and despite clouds of sulphuric acid—fairly similar to conditions on Earth.
4. The Next Generation of Spacesuits
The appearance of spacesuits has remained largely unchanged since the dawn of human space exploration in the 1960s. That is, until now. SpaceX, NASA and MIT have all announced plans to develop a new generation of space apparel. These suits will be sleeker and more form-fitting than their bulky predecessors, and will make use of emerging technologies like electroluminescent wires and new fabrics that become skin tight when exposed to heat.
5. SpaceX Colonial Transporter
Earlier this year, SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk announced that he intends to reveal his plans for the colonisation of Mars by the end of 2015. What do we know so far? The Mars Colonial Transporter (MCT) will be a novel system that combines a space capsule, launch vehicle and SpaceX ‘Raptor’ rocket engine to shuttle humans and material to the red planet and back again. The spacecraft could be operational as early as 2025.
6. Journey to Mars
NASA’s on-going Journey to Mars programme has been called ‘mankind’s next great leap forward’ by the space agency, and aims to send astronauts to the red planet by the 2030s. The mission will use NASA’s existing Orion spacecraft to transport a manned crew with a host of new technologies, and could pave the way for the establishment of a permanent human presence on Mars by the middle of the century.