What Does The Future In Space Look Like? Experts Discuss At Rice University

Noted space scientists from around the country gathered at Rice University to discuss the impact of space exploration and what the future holds.

The Scientia Conference: Space Exploration and Human Imagination examined the implications of the expansion of human presence in space, and how the culture of space exploration is changing.

Dr. David Alexander of the Rice Space Institute, chaired the conference.

"As we studied the universe with Hubble Space Telescope, and as we visit other planets with rovers and so on, we learning a little bit more about our own place in the solar system and in the universe and so, that changes how we see things. Instead of growing up to be a train driver, now people want to grow up and be astronauts. And just that change is starting to be documented. We've only been in space for what, 50-60 years, so I think it's a good time to have these conversations."

Professor James Kasting at Penn State University discussed laying the groundwork for a mission to Mars and finding life on the red planet.

"Sending people to Mars is in the medium to long term, that's the objective. But in the short term, that's too expensive, and the country is broke right now. So what I was pushing was this terrestrial planet finder telescope up at L-2, which we can look for life on other stars. That would probably be somewhere between $5 and 10 billion dollars initially. So that's one percent of the cost of sending people to Mars."

Former astronaut Mike Massimino is executive director of the Rice Space Institute. He helped fixed the Hubble Space Telescope and says telescopic exploration of space keeps the excitement going.

"Your digital camera has evolved over the last couple of years. Hubble's been able to benefit from that. We've been able to go up service it and put in the new technology, so we can see farther and better and more clearly. I don't think there's any reason why that technology is gonna stop, and we want to be able to remain on top of that. And that means putting new instruments up there, that can give us more information of what is out there, and help us figure all these wonderful questions that we have, that we keep developing, about where we are, who we are, and what is our place in the universe."

He says the International Space Station helps set the stage for going beyond the earth's orbit.

"To go back to the moon, or to Mars or to an asteroid. So there's a debate going on about where exactly that location's gonna be, and I think a debate is good, because I think it allows us to make the right decision."

Conference chair Dr. David Alexander hopes space exploration will move higher on the government agenda, and that involvement from other countries is vital.

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Pat Hernandez

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Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...