Why bother with Space Science, exploration and Astronomy?

Benefits of space science and astronomy

“Twinkle Twinkle little star,How I wonder what you are…”

For most people, the first real thought given to the gaseous ‘twinklers’ in the night and the cosmos around our planet are gleamed from the lyrics of a nursery rhyme; and like the lyrics of the rhyme, most form a distant and disinterested attitude towards the stars and other celestial bodies, after all, they are up above the world so high.

But…..where actually is space?

It is a continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied above and beyond our atmosphere. Some of the frequently asked questions are: are we alone in the universe? How did the universe come about? How does the universe work, where exactly does space begin? etc.

There is a current dispute as to where actually space begins. Where does one’s property right (as in the air) end? Where the air ends and the air law regime, which is governed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and where space begins is one of those things that the international community has not been able to agree on. Australia is the only country in the world that actually defines where space begins. She defines space as 100 kilometers up. However, while most nations want to set limits, set a height based on kilometers like Australia, the United States looks at it like a use; what did you use, are you launching a rocket that’s intended to go into orbit or are you just launching a plane that’s going to go high into your air. This is important because States own the air over them. If you believe that you are in outer space or you are in outer space, you can fly over any country without consent and engage in espionage legally.

What is Space Science?

Space Science is the study and research of issues specifically related to spaceflight/ travel and space exploration. It is the Study of everything above and beyond the surface of the Earth, from earth’s Atmosphere to the very edges of the universe. Space Technology refers to the technology in the satellites and ground systems used by Space scientists to study the universe (looking up) and the earth (looking down) or to deliver services to users on the ground.

Branches of space science

There are several branches of space science and astronomy is one of them. Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole. In ancient times, calendars were often been set by observation of the sun and moon marking the day, months and years. This was most important to agriculture in which harvest depended on seasons of planting. Other branches of space science are :

Ø  Astrophysics:

Ø  Planetary science:

Ø  Aerospace engineering:

Ø  Astronautics:

Ø  Astrobiology and space medicine:

Ø  Stellar science:

Ø  Earth Observation

Brief History of Space Travel

On October 4, 1957, the world was stunned by the news of an Earth-orbiting artificial satellite launched by the Soviet Union. Called Sputnik I, the satellite was the first successful entry in a race for space between the two superpower nations. Less than a month later, the Soviets followed with the launch of a satellite carrying a dog named Laika on board. Laika survived in space for seven days before being put to sleep before the oxygen supply ran out.

A few months after the first Sputnik, the United States followed the Soviet Union with a satellite of its own. Explorer I was launched by the U.S. Army on January 31, 1958. In October of that year, the United States formally organized its space program by creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA became a civilian agency with the goal of peaceful exploration of space for the benefit of all humankind.

Soon, many people and machines were being launched into space. Astronauts orbited Earth and landed on the Moon. Robot spacecraft traveled to the planets. Space was suddenly opened up to exploration and commercial exploitation. Satellites enabled scientists to investigate our world, forecast the weather, and to communicate instantaneously around the globe. As the demand for more and larger payloads increased, a wide array of powerful and versatile rockets had to be built.

Since the earliest days of discovery and experimentation, rockets have evolved from simple gunpowder devices into giant vehicles capable of traveling into outer space. Rockets have opened the universe to direct exploration by humankind.

What then are the benefits of space science and astronomy?

A.        Education – Improving our understanding of the human body:

Access to education increases economic prospects, broadens opportunities for social mobility, and contributes to the empowerment of women and young girls. While remote and rural communities have traditionally struggled with access to education, space-based technologies, such as satellite communications technologies, are helping to bridge this access gap.

Technologies like web and videoconferencing and voice over Internet protocol allow educators and students to create virtual classrooms, regardless of physical locations. Other versions of distance learning allow learners to access web based course materials on their own schedules, and communication between students and teachers may take place through e-mails, message boards or video recordings. Tele-education has become so popular that many institutions worldwide now offer distance education options ranging from the simplest instruction to degree and doctoral programs.

Beyond facilitating programme delivery, space also plays an inspirational role in education. Classes on space topics often spark students’ curiosity and imagination and encourage youth of both genders to become increasingly involved in the sciences. Furthermore, the excitement of space travel gets young people interested in space science. Astronauts encourage young people to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Astronauts are a source of inspiration for the public and motivate young people to continue their studies in the fields of STEM.

Experiments performed in space help us understand the health problems associated with aging and sedentary lifestyles. The effect of zero gravity on aging issues, heart issues, and bone marrow and density issues are studied to improve our understanding of the human body.

 A.        Satellites in our everyday lives:

Since the first satellite was launched into orbit in 1957, space technology has evolved rapidly. Today, a growing number of satellites orbit the Earth, making various various earth observations, communications, navigation and science applications possible. While we may not always realize or acknowledge their existence, the important role these systems play in our daily lives cannot be underestimated. They contribute considerably to our wellbeing and enable us to achieve our objectives in new and innovative ways.Space-derived products and services in Earth observation, satellite communication, and navigation and positioning are crucial for the economic development of any nation.

–     Space serving the Arctic: Space provides a unique vantage point from which to monitor the Arctic and respond effectively to the distinct challenges and opportunities in the region.

–    Taking action on climate change: Satellites are valuable tools to increase our knowledge of climate change and its impacts, and thus properly target our action plans and response activities. Thanks to satellite data, we can maximize the use of our lands.

–     Monitoring and protecting our ecosystem: Satellites help us to monitor our coastlines, waters, seas, roads and air. Earth observation/remote-sensing satellites use state-of-the-art instruments to gather information about the natural resources and the condition of Earth’s interrelated land, sea, and atmospheric systems. Located in various orbits, these satellites use sensors that can “see” a broad area and report very fine details about these systems and their interactions to provide information on, among other things, weather, the terrain and the environment. Satellite sensors receive signals in various spectral bands to provide vital information that is invisible to the naked eye. For example, these instruments can detect an object’s temperature and composition, the wind direction and speed, and environmental conditions, such as erosion, fires and pollution.

–     Agriculture in the satellite age: Agriculture forms the basis of the world’s food supply. Soil conditions, water availability, weather extremes and climate change can represent costly challenges both to farmers and the overall food security of populations. Space-based technology is of value to farmers, agronomists, food manufacturers and agricultural policymakers who wish to simultaneously enhance production and profitability. Remote sensing satellites provide key data for monitoring soil, snow cover, drought and crop development. Rainfall assessments from satellites, for example, help farmers plan the timing and amount of irrigation they will need for their crops. Accurate information and analysis can also help predict a region’s agricultural output well in advance and can be critical in anticipating and mitigating the effects of food shortages and famines. Space observations also help in securing fresh water resources as well as forest management and mapping of lands for effective cropping and harvest.

In countries where the failure of a harvest may mean the difference between bounty and starvation, satellites have helped planners manage scarce resources and head off potential disasters before insects could wipe out an entire crop. For example, in agricultural regions near the fringes of the Sahara desert, scientists used satellite images to predict where locust swarms were breeding and were able to prevent the locusts from swarming, thus saving large areas of cropland.

–     Transportation (air and sea travel): Satellites aid in air and sea navigation. Flights and ships are directed on their courses by data sourced from satellite imagery. Land transportation (shuttles, ubers) also uses maps sourced by satellite imagery. Travel would therefore be impossible without space science.

Satellite navigation uses satellites as reference points to calculate positions that are accurate to within a metre. With advanced techniques and augmentations, satellite navigation can provide measurements that are accurate to a centimetre. Navigation and positioning receivers have been miniaturised and are becoming economical, making the technology accessible to everyone. For example, Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers are currently built into cars, boats, planes, construction equipment and even laptops. In the US, navigation and positioning, such as provided by the COSPAS-SARSAT System3, is the main element for search and rescue. GNSS is also being used, together with Earth observation applications, for the surveillance and monitoring of illegal shipping activities, such as unlawful fishing, oil spills and the ensuing environmental damage. Global Navigation Satellite Systems are technologies which use Earth-orbiting satellites, networks of ground control stations, and receivers to calculate positions by triangulation. Global Navigation Satellite Systems, such as the American Global Positioning System and the Russian GLONASS, provide extremely accurate positioning and navigation information, which is relied upon in aviation, maritime, rail and road transit.

–     Environment: Human actions have had an indisputable impact on the Earth’s natural environment. Human activities have contributed to deforestation, desertification, soil degradation, depletion of the ozone layer and climate change. Space-based technologies, such as remotely sensed data, have enhanced scientific understanding of water cycles, air quality, forests and other aspects of the natural environment. These surveying and monitoring tools provide valuable information on the state of ecosystems, which offers objective support for positive environmental action, including conservation and sustainable resource management.

Because remote-sensing satellites cover the entire globe, they are important for the study of large-scale phenomena like ocean circulations, climate change, desertification and deforestation. Satellites make it possible to monitor environmental change caused by human activity and natural processes. Because data is collected in a consistent manner, satellites can reveal subtle changes that might otherwise remain undetected. For example, the well known Ozone Hole over Antarctica and the phenomena of atmospheric ozone depletion were discovered using satellites.

Remote sensing data helps with the management of scarce resources by showing the best places to drill for water or oil. From space, one can easily see fires burning in the rain forests as trees are cleared for farms and roads. Remote sensing satellites have become a formidable tool against the destruction of the environment because they can systematically monitor large areas to assess the spread of pollution and other damage. Such monitoring capabilities are critical for the long-term sustainable use of the continent’s scarce resources.

–     Climate Change/Disasters: Climate change is one of the greatest threats of our time, and we are already seeing the effects. Satellites are valuable tools used to increase our knowledge of climate processes and their impacts, and thus properly target our action plans and response activities. Several satellites monitor signs of climate change, such as melting ice and rising waters. Climate change has various consequences, including: floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, melting of polar icecaps, and rising sea levels. The full scope of these catastrophic events can be seen from space. Satellite data is thus used to better understand this global phenomenon, propose more effective solutions and evacuate humans from danger paths, aiding in disaster and risk management.

The use of space for collection of data cannot be over emphasised as it provides early warning signals of natural disasters which help to mitigate the consequences of the natural disasters via the coordination of technological space capabilities and capacities. Space-based technologies can contribute to all phases of the disaster management cycle, including prevention, preparedness, early warning, response and reconstruction. Before a disaster takes place, remotely sensed data provides information for systems and models which can predict disasters and provide early warnings. These space applications are indicators of the importance of space technologies for improving life.

B.        Communication:

Daily life for a large portion of the world’s population now involves sharing information via mobile phones, personal computers and other electronic communication devices. Space-based technologies, namely communications satellites, enable global telecommunications systems by relaying signals with voice, video and data to and from one or many locations. Talking on cellular phones. Long distance and overseas calls would be impossible without satellites! Communications satellites are the most economical way to connect world communitieseven the most remote, with the advanced services needed to compete in the global knowledge economy.

While Earth-based alternatives to space technologies are sometimes possible, space-based technology can often reduce infrastructure requirements and offer more cost effective service delivery options. For instance, instead of constructing a series of transmission and relay towers to broadcast television programmes to far-to-reach places, one satellite dish could be provided to a remote community to pick up broadcast signals sent from a satellite.

Satellite communication is a key technology that could enable developing countries to participate in the build-up of global information infrastructure. Research indicates that satellite-based wireless systems are the most cost-effective way to develop or upgrade telecommunications networks in areas where user density is lower than 200subscribers per square kilometre. Such wireless systems can be installed five to 10times faster and at a 50% lower cost than landline networks. Technologies for education and training, in particular distance learning and multimedia technologies, may be instrumental in meeting the needs of African countries that have to train and integrate a large number of workers in widely dispersed and underserviced areas. Many African countries have to cope with large-scale disease outbreaks, and telemedicine may help to meet these challenges by improving the organisation and management of remote health care delivery. Satellite television broadcasting is another important application of space technology and will help in improving access to information and to make the African voice heard worldwide. The Regional African Satellite Communications Organization (RASCOM) and other satellite systems with global or sub-regional coverage are currently providing a small proportion of these data services.

C.         Research and development/scientific discoveries:

Science may be viewed as our quest for more knowledge about the world and ourselves. For thousands of years, humanity has pushed boundaries in its search to learn more about our place in the universe. Numerous new scientific developments and discoveries have already come out of human desire to know more about and explore space. While some findings may only ever have direct space applications, many more result in spin off technologies, products and services with direct benefits to populations on Earth. Scratch resistant lenses, temper foam, freeze drying technology and improvements to radial tires are simple examples of space spin offs that have already contributed to the fields of health, public safety and transportation.

Researchers conduct many important scientific experiments onboard the International Space Station towards understanding cardiovascular health, investigating bone strength, and making the Space Station feel like home, testing astronaut disorientation with virtual reality, heart health, and immune system changes in microgravity, studying plant biology, monitoring radiation, testing reflexes and skin sensitivity.

Participation in the International Space Station (ISS) allows scientists to access the unique space environment and conduct cutting-edge experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory to prepare for deep-space destinations and use the knowledge obtained to improve our quality of life on Earth. Station-generated images that assist with disaster relief and farming, and education programs that inspire future scientists, engineers and space explorers are just a few examples of research benefits.

D.        Global health:

Space-based technologies plays a growing role in furthering global health objectives. Information from remote sensing technologies is applied to study the epidemiology of infectious diseases. Data is used to monitor disease patterns, understand environmental triggers for the spread of diseases, predict risk areas and define regions that require disease-control planning. Computer and telecommunications technologies, including satellite communications, also enable the sharing of health and medical expertise. By bringing medical specialists into virtual contact with patients and health practitioners in remote, rural and underserviced areas, tele-health and tele-medicine can improve access to medical and health-related services.

Furthermore, some medical technologies are inspired by robotics in space. Some of these include performing risky surgical operations using minimally invasive surgeries or revolutionizing neurosurgery with robots. In 2013, Toronto-based Synaptive Medical approached MDA, a business unit of Maxar Technologies and Canadian leader in space robotics, to develop a medical solution, based on Satellite Canadarm2 technology, to potentially help neurosurgeons perform minimally invasive clinical procedures with greater safety and efficiency. It is reported that this technology has been used to perform several successful surgeries. We may not yet know what will be the most important discovery from the International Space Station (ISS), but we already have some amazing breakthroughs! In the areas of human health, telemedicine, vaccine development research, education and observations of Earth from space, there are already demonstrated benefits to human life.

E.         Sustainable development/Planning:

Earth observation from space is a cost-effective way of obtaining unbiased and essential data on the physical world. Decision makers use this information to understand trends, evaluate needs, and create sustainable development policies and programmes in the best interest of all populations.

Globally, more people now live in urban than in rural areas. Urban populations are also expected to continue to grow, so that by 2050 approximately two thirds of the world’s population will be urban. With increasing and sometimes rapid urbanization, cities frequently face challenges with housing, water, sanitation, electricity, crime, pollution and transportation. One of the most important initiatives like earth mapping and town planning which aids sustainable development is made possible by space science.

Space-based technologies provide unique tools for planning socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements. Central government policymakers, mayors, city planners, engineers and landscape architects are among those who use remote sensing tools that measure and monitor existing patterns of land use and infrastructure development. Not only does this data inform decision makers about current urban projects, complex models can also be constructed to predict future trends in human settlements and urbanization.   

Remote sensing technology has helped map makers. With satellite imagery, they can produce maps in a fraction of the time it would take using laborious ground surveys. The use of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) or stereoscopic imaging provides topographic maps of the landscape. This capability enables city planners to keep up with urban sprawl and gives deployed troops the latest maps of unfamiliar terrain. The latter is vitally important for peacekeeping missions in Africa.

F.         Humanitarian Assistance:

Humanitarian assistance and aid are material and logistical actions undertaken to help people in need. Humanitarian assistance endeavours to save lives, reduce suffering, and ensure that human dignity is protected even during times of crisis. Space-based technologies provide unique contributions to the international humanitarian system. Remotely sensed data and space-based communications technologies, for instance, often provide valuable assistance with logistical planning, rapid decision-making and resource allocation and can thereby improve the ways in which humanitarian assistance is designed and delivered.   

G.        International peace – Cooperating with countries around the world:

In 1958, shortly after the launch of the first artificial satellite, the General Assembly decided to establish an ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPOUS). Since that time COPOUS has evolved, and the Committee and its two Subcommittees have become unique platforms for States to come together to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, encourage continued research and the dissemination of information on outer space matters, and study legal question arising from the exploration of outer space.

In a bid to understand space travel, several countries go into partnerships which promote world solidarity and peace. Countries are partners of the International Space Station (ISS), a research laboratory in space that orbits the Earth. The ISS has many pressurized modules or habitable sections filled with breathable air. Its living space is about the size of a five-bedroom home. The first module of the ISS was launched on November 20, 1998. Every year, several studies are conducted aboard the ISS, some of which are still underway. These experiments are designed to study the effects of space travel on astronauts’ bodies before they undertake longer journeys deep into our solar system for the benefit all of humanity. Every day, the ISS circles the Earth 16 times, a distance roughly equal to a round trip to the Moon!

H.        International Security:

Satellites in space also help in fighting insecurity. The global monitoring of securities and reconnaissance of trouble spots to gather intelligence or to follow flight patterns of crime lords or understand high crime neighbourhoods is made possible via the use of satellites launched into space.

In Nigeria for example, the country’s satellite….. was used for surveillance in the war against Boko Haram and in the search of the missing Chibok girls. Used as tools for peace, satellites have been instrumental in resolving major differences among nations in the last century, and continue to contribute to the reduction of tensions that might lead to wars. Satellite-derived information also forms the backbone of the United Nations Security Council decisions on several conflicts around the world.

When it comes to space activities, the areas of science, technology, law, policy and security are inherently interlinked. Space technologies often have overlapping civilian and military applications, and choices made about the uses of outer space directly impact international peace, safety and security. The Office for Outer Space Affairs, in its support of the Committee and its Subcommittees, supports constructive and innovative discussions and agreements on measures that all of us, engaging directly in space activities or benefitting from space-based services, can take to ensure the peaceful, safe and secure continuity of space activities.

I.           Jobs: Several countries are leaders in space robotics or have space programs which create employment for citizens. Jobs, internships and career opportunities abound in the space field.

Careers in space include:

–     Astronauts who are modern-day explorers who travel beyond the Earth to help discover new scientific knowledge.

–     Engineers who design, build and maintain systems and spacecraft using math, science and technical knowledge.

–     Lawyers who draft space law and policies, multilateral space agreements and commercial agreements for space travels, exploration and mining.

–     Medical doctors and health science experts who provide astronauts with clinical support and conduct research on how space affects organisms.

–     Scientists who study various phenomena and develop theories based on scientific observation.

–     Technologists and technicians who construct, test and operate equipment and instruments.

–     Infographics, visuals and images professionals related to careers in the space sector.

Conclusion

Space presents a unique opportunity for cooperation in using and sharing enabling infrastructure and data towards the proactive management of disease outbreaks, natural resources and the environment, responses to natural hazards and disasters, weather forecasting, climate change mitigation and adaptation, agriculture and food security, peacekeeping missions and conflict resolution.

It is therefore imperative that Nigeria must without delay improve on its space technological infrastructure by adequately funding its space Agency and revving its Space policy to compete with advanced nations.

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