Senate approves PH Space Agency, NASA sets eyes on 2024 Moon expedition

The Philippine Senate has recently approved the bill creating the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA). Senate Bill 1983, otherwise known as the Act of Establishing the Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy and Creating the Philippine Agency, was passed last Monday, May 20.

Outgoing Senator Bam Aquino, one of the principal authors of the bill, reasoned that a space program would help provide insight or solutions for some of the problems that plague the country such as natural calamities and disasters, urban planning, and inefficiency in telecommunications. Aside from being a small step toward becoming a spacefaring nation, the bill also adds focus on climate studies, agriculture, disaster management, and space education.

The passing of the bill in home turf comes at a time where big and small players in the space industry, such as SpaceX, the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA), Chinese National Space Agency, and the European Space Agency, have all announced big plans in the coming decade. From launching satellites, developing reusable rockets, sending rovers to scour the lunar and martian surfaces, to tackling space debris—these will all lay the groundwork for the main goal: manned missions to the Moon and beyond.

‘We are going to the Moon, to stay, by 2024’

Now, NASA, who first landed astronauts on the moon 50 years ago, has announced plans to return to the lunar surface in a “very different way.”

While the goal five decades ago was to be the first to set foot on the Moon and return back to Earth afterward, NASA now plans to land on Earth’s permanent natural satellite once again on 2024 to create the first lunar colony.

With an ambitious goal comes many hurdles. The first would be overcoming the force of gravity. Reaching escape velocity, the speed needed to overcome the force of gravity, is no simple task. Not only must the rocket carry its own weight, it must also carry the weight of the equipment and cargo the passengers and the passenger capsule. When Apollo 11 first stepped on the Moon in 1969, the Saturn V rocket was used. For the planned journey in 2024, NASA plans to use the SLS, short for the Space Launch System. Dubbed as the “most powerful rocket ever created”, it will serve as the backbone of future spaceflights, as reported by the American space agency. The rocket will be first tested in the year 2020 during Exploration Mission 1, which will also make use of NASA´s next generation passenger capsule, Orion.

Building the lunar civilization

Creating a sustainable colony outside of Earth is an even more daunting task. For a colony to thrive, human necessities must be attended to on regular intervals. Humans must grow food, find water, produce oxygen, and harbor electricity. Without proper soil to grow on the Moon, plants would most likely be grown through hydroponics, which is the process of growing plants without soil. In addition to that, drinking water may be acquired using the large quantities of water ice on the lunar surface that were reported first in August 2018. Passing an electric current through water results in the production of hydrogen and oxygen gases as well. These can then be used for rocket fuel and as breathable oxygen, respectively. With no atmosphere, it is impossible for wind turbines to be used. Fortunately, this means that there will be no shortage of solar energy.

As the lunar colony would then be in its first construction phase, supplies would have to still come from Earth. This is where NASA’s plan for reusable landers and a space platform will come into play. Landers are designed to land anywhere on the lunar surface. Gateway, the space platform to be utilized during the 2024 moon expedition, will be located somewhere between Earth and the lunar orbit and will serve as a waypoint for reusable landers, human capsules, and a platform for more deep space experiments.

To Mars and farther

Ultimately, NASA´s endeavours on the Moon is preparing humans toward the larger goal: Mars. NASA stated from a video announcing its plans for 2024, “The Moon is uniquely suited to prepare us [for] Mars and beyond”. While Gateway will become a waypoint for manned missions to Mars and beyond, a new space race is on the verge of actuality as various other space agencies and companies have announced their plans to set foot on the Red Planet.

The rest of the world is preparing to take off to even greater heights and to achieve more feats in space exploration. Soon enough, the Philippines will have a chance to catch up—as long as we see it still as one of the biggest leaps for the Filipino, to see it as the future worth venturing.

Ryan Lim

By Ryan Lim

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