With the sad passing of Arthur C Clarke much has been said of the future that he envisaged with television news showing his fictional spaceships dancing to the strains of the Blue Danube from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Yet we do live in a future of space travel and exploration, be it the communications satellites in the 22,240 mile high geostationary orbit that Clarke accurately predicted in 1945 or the ten year old International Space Station in its rather lower orbit of around 250 miles.
Today there are ten humans in orbit in the ISS, its own crew of three and the shuttle Endeavour’s crew of seven. Waiting in orbit for Endeavour to depart is ATV-1 Jules Verne, Europe’s first unmanned space truck launched on an Ariane 5-ES. It will dock with the station when Endeavour is safely away, and let us not forget the station’s own ship, Soyuz TMA-11, which took its core crew up there in the first place.
In the inner solar system Messenger continues its journey to Mercury where it is due to arrive in 2011, while the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, continue to drive around the surface of the red planet as they have been doing for the last four years. In the outer solar system the Cassini probe continues its flypasts of Saturn and its numerous moons. A week ago it flew to within 30 miles of the surface of the moon Enceladus.
Beyond our solar system the Pioneer 10 probe is heading for Aldebaran and, assuming a Klingon Bird of Prey doesn’t use it for target practice as seen in Star Trek V, it should be there in about 2 million years. Meanwhile of the other interstellar probes, Pioneer 11 is heading for the constellation of Aguilla, Voyager 1 is heading in the direction of the constellation of Ophiuchus, and Voyager 2 towards Canis Major. Both Voyager craft continue to transmit data.
Rather closer to Earth, as the Shuttle programme winds down, we will have to put the name Apollo-Saturn out of our heads and start to think about the next generation of manned spacecraft and launchers, Orion-Ares.
Alternatively there will be the opportunity to make short hops high into the upper atmosphere in Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, as advertised on the back pages of Virgin’s Dan Dare comic, or maybe even EADS-Astrium’s space plane.
We do live in a future of space travel and exploration, we just tend to forget about it.