Plans for Space Voyages of the Future

The European Space Agency (ESA) holds the belief that planning ahead of time is vital for any large commitment. Throughout the Agency’s history, its members have met years ahead of time to discuss plans for future space exploration.

Founded in the 1970s, the Agency held its first planning session in 1984, to discuss plans up to the year 2000 for their Horizon 2000 program. The Agency met again in 1994 to discuss its Horizon 2000 plus program, and once more in 2005 to plan its current 2015-2025 program. 

Each of the meetings are dedicated to pinpointing the Agency’s goals for the next period of time, based on what it deems most significant. 

In early 2019 the Agency began planning for its Voyage 2050 program, the earliest and most upfront yet. By June of 2021, when the Agency met to discuss its plans for Voyage 2050, it had generated close to 100 different ideas, each supported by an argument for its implementation. The Agency’s Science Programme Committee assessed the different plans, and narrowed down to three to become the face of the Voyage 2050 program. Other ideas that didn’t make the top 3 have been saved for the future, either because they were too ambitious, and impossible with today’s technology, or because they were not as important as the three selected. 

The first mission to be selected was visiting and examining the moons in our solar system. Investigating the potential habitability of our neighborhood moons is important for understanding the emergence of life, and may be necessary in a future where humans live on other planets. 

Titan, one of Saturn's moons, has an atmosphere capable of supporting life, alongside oceans and seas on its surface. The moon, like others, remains largely unexplored, and could contain signs of life.

The second mission selected was identifying and investigating into unexplored planets in the Milky Way. By cataloging the other planets in our galaxy, our understanding of its formation will be bolstered, as will our knowledge of space in general. Additionally, investigating any planets with the possibility of possessing life is important, similar to the ESA’s first mission. 

The third, and final mission to be proposed and selected was probing the surrounding universe for signs of its history and creation. Questions still remain surrounding the existence of everything, and how the Big Bang occurred. Additionally, phenomena such as black holes and dark matter are nowhere near fully understood, and knowledge of them would increase from learning of the universe’s origin. The presence of cosmic background (radiation still leftover from the Big Bang), may be the secret to learning about existence, and may unlock the universe’s many secrets. The third mission is by far the most complex, and likely to remain uncompleted by 2050, but is perhaps the most important, and will continue to be worked upon in the future. 

By planning very early beforehand, the ESA has set themselves, and the rest of the scientific community ahead, and given themselves a good place to launch from. As Fabio Favata, Head of the Strategy, Planning, and Coordination Office for the ESA proudly stated, the Voyage 2050 plan is taking off, and “will keep Europe at the forefront of space science for decades to come”.

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