Terra Nova – New World. These words evoke thoughts of limitless potential and progress. Indeed, that is at the heart this year’s Young Astronauts mission.
As we proceed toward the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, spaceflight looks much different today than when humans first probed the mysteries of the cosmos.
In the beginning, small unmanned probes were our eyes and ears in space, starting with Sputnik and Explorer; two small satellites that proved that not only was spaceflight possible, but that there were secrets to be learned. It wasn’t long before astronauts followed the machines into space.
The dilemma, of course, is that space is an inherently hostile environment for people. Dangers lurk in every spacecraft and pressure suit. Robotics, on the other hand, offers a safe and reasonably inexpensive way to explore dangerous areas of space. We can reach out to areas of our solar system, and beyond, that would be unimaginable for a human.
Robots and machines are built to do certain tasks that humans cannot do. The machines we send into space are remarkable in many ways, but they can only do as they are told. They cannot observe a situation, analyze it, and make changes based on those observations and analyses. Only human can do that. We use robots as tools to extend human knowledge.
In many ways, humanity is now experiencing a new model of how exploration will proceed in the future. This year’s Columbus Young Astronauts are on the forefront of this revolution. Our fifth graders have embraced the coming together of human ingenuity and technological progress. With this, the 19th annual Young Astronaut simulated mission, the fifth graders will, for the first time, proceed with a robotic mission. With an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, our 14 astronauts have appropriately christened this mission Terra Nova, or New World, where the human mind, in conjunction with human inventions, takes a journey into unprecedented realms of exploration, while continuing the essence of what makes us human – the wonder of it all.