But in the decades since man first walked on the moon, science has advanced so rapidly that technology which even a few years ago might have been considered magic has become commonplace. Even so, it would be naïve to assume that Apollo 11 ever represented science and technology's pinnacle, and that nothing forthcoming will similarly explode the world's collective dreams and perceptions of what it means to be human.
So what's next? What will be the next worldwide event or discovery that fundamentally changes the way we look at ourselves and the universe we live in?
When President Kennedy laid forth his plan to put a man on the moon he did so in a world that had just become acclimated to rapidly advancing technology. Nuclear power, television, jet engines, satellites and computers had proven that only the scope of our imaginations limited our progress. By challenging America to go to the moon, Kennedy forced the country to expand its imagination to meet the possibilities of science.
So, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, we've assembled a list scientific accomplishments that would certainly shatter our nonchalance about advanced technology, capturing worldwide psyches at the same time.
Clearly, this list is incomplete, and we'd like you, the readers to add to it. What scientific or engineering project, discovery, or advance do you think could inspire and impress the people of today like the moon landing did 40 years ago? Have we, as a civilization, moved past the propensity to marvel at technological progress, or can a sufficiently impressive advance still illicit awe? We look forward to reading your additions to our list, your arguments for and against them, and your general observations about the ability of science to inspire. Now, let's take a look at the list:
A Manned Mission to Mars
Ever since the moon landing, humans (including those who've walked on the moon) have looked past the moon to Earth's next closest neighbor: Mars. Travelling to Mars is of course vastly more difficult than travelling to the moon, but if anything can become a worldwide moment as Apollo 11 did, it would be humans walking on another planet for the first time.
Where We Are Now: During the Bush Administration, and especially under the tenure of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, manned missions to Mars received a great deal of support. However, the Obama Administration is far less taken with the idea of manned spaceflight, and has scalled back many programs considered necessary for an eventual mission to Mars.
Even if the political will was there, right now, the technology isn't. There is currently no shielding strong enough to protect the astronauts from the high power cosmic rays that would constantly bombard them during the trip. These highly charged particles cause cancer, and damage the astronauts' eyes and brains. Additionally, being stuck in a tin can adrift in space for the 500+ day journey (one-way) doesn't exactly do wonders for the psyche, and most research catalogues a range of problems resulting from the cramped, precarious and monotonous living conditions.
All of this adds up to journey that reduces fit, PhD-graduate astronauts to blind, brain-damaged lunatics who probably couldn't get it together enough to land the ship when they did eventually reach Mars.
What Needs To Happen: Designing a rocket that can travel to Mars and back is actually the easy part. Dealing with the shielding and the health problems caused by the trick form the real problem. Cosmic rays travel at nearly the speed of light, so any physical shielding thick enough to stop them built from current tech would likely be too heavy to get into orbit. Luckily, cosmic rays are charged particles, and thus easily manipulated by magnetic fields. Current thinking focuses on magnetic shielding that would redirect the rays around the spaceship, rather than block them outright.
On the psychology front, a recent European study locked six scientists in a simulated spacecraft for 105 days, and none of them succumbed to space madness. This year, another team of six will be locked in the simulator for the full 520 days a Mars mission is expected to take. The results of that test will provide a wealth of data needed to design the psychological program that will keep the astronauts mentally fit to perform their duties.
Chances It Will Occur Within A Decade: Nil. The technology could certainly be developed, but right now, the political will (yet alone the financial support) just isn't there.
I would like to simply state the following with regards to religion. Imagine yourself as smart enough, sane enough to not need a threat of "hell" or a promise of "heaven" to be respectful, charitable, compassionate, etc... Now imagine people who are not so sane. Imagine that your religious neighbors are high strung, stressed out, largely unhappy people ready to snap, but have not swung the rope over to insanity for the basic fear of an "ultimate punishment".
Can you imagine how many seemingly normal people could go roaming the street, doing anything they feel to anyone in their way, simply because they no longer have a reason to fear any punishment beyond death? If science finds a way to take away the faith of the people, and the reprocussions will be horrendous.
Religion keeps the masses in line.
just get rid of religion its stupid has no point and has been proven wrong many times so STFU all you religious dopes out there i believe in what science tells me
Faster-than-light travel. True FTL would cause a gigantic space race revival (hopefully) and allow us to check the Kepler Candidates for habitable environments, as well as actually expand beyond earth and into the universe.
Of course, the only possibility for this lies with NASA's warp experiments, which seem to have plenty of problems of their own. If the modified Alcubierre model works though, and if the Casimir Effect can produce the necessary negative energy, then we might see Gliese 667Cc with our own eyes in this lifetime.