The future of human spaceflight

This year marks 50 years since the Apollo 11 mission, but what is the future of human spaceflight over the next ten years? 

This talk, chaired by journalist Richard Hollingham, included a panel of guests all with different backgrounds in spaceflight: European space agency engineer Vinita Marwaha, science journalist Sue Nelson, extreme medical doctor Beth Healey, and material science researcher Christopher Ogunlesi. The event consisted of 10-minute talks from each guest about their area of research, followed by a question and answer session. 

The first speaker, Sue, talked about equality in space science and how the area is becoming more diverse. She talked about Wally Funk, who was part of the Mercury 13; a group of women who were part of the NASA astronaut program in 1961. However, the program was cancelled, and the group never got to go to space. Excitingly, however, we were told that a woman will set foot on the moon by 2024, and that recently the first all-woman spacewalk took place on the International Space Station. I found this a very inspiring segment, especially for young women with a passion for space science. 

Vinita and Christopher both spoke about the engineering side of human spaceflight. Vinita spoke about working on the design of spacesuits and Christopher spoke about his research into using ‘moon dust’ to 3D print tools on the moon so that less weight is transported up. These engaging segments helped the audience understand the many physical factors needing to be considered for space travel. 

Lastly, Beth spoke about her interest in the medical side of human exposure to extreme conditions. Part of her research has included expeditions to the Arctic and Siberia, and she has also worked for the European space agency. The understanding of the psychological effects of astronauts spending so long in a confined space is still unknown. 

The session was an outstanding event, and was accessible to all ages and backgrounds. All speakers were very engaging and contributed equally to the discussion, but it could have benefitted from a longer Q&A session as there were so many questions! 

 I enjoyed the variety of backgrounds of the panelists, as it was very eye-opening. It was exciting to hear the final consensus that in the next ten years, the first woman will have landed on the moon! 

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Mali Hitchcock Brown

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August 2022
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