What does space exploration look like in the 2020s?

The Face guide to the 2020s: Sue Horne is the head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency. Here she talks new space stations and Europe’s first mission to Mars.

Hi, and welcome to the future: a toasty-warm, carbon-neutral, plastic-free place where your face has replaced your passport and your car drives itself. Weed is legal, alcohol is hangover-free, weekends last three days and we robots do your admin. We can dream.

Ten long years ago, The Face compiled a set of predictions for the coming decade from a star chamber of hotshot experts. That flesh-and-blood editorial team has long since disbanded but their legacy remains. From now until the first day of the new decade we’re sharing some prognostications (as seen in The Face Volume 4 Issue 002) on love, sex, space, AI, cannabis, mental health and plastic surgery (and more) for the years ahead.

Sue Horne (Head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency)

In the 2020s we will build and open The Gateway: an international space station that will orbit the Moon. The initial studies for it have already started and the Americans are aiming to have boots on the Moon again by 2024, with The Gateway finished by 2028. That’s quite an aggressive timescale they’ve set themselves but this is a global project, so it should be achievable. Basically, we want to understand the Moon better, as well as to test out the technologies we will need to send a crewed mission to Mars. We need to understand how to counteract the harsh radiation environment that you get once you’re away from the Earth. We also need to understand how we can live off the resources in space – how, for example, to extract oxygen from the water that’s on the Moon, which astronauts could use to breathe and also as fuel for rockets. All that could be tested and refined at The Gateway.

Our first European mission to Mars should be launched in July 2020. It should be the first successful European landing on Mars. The rover has been built in Stevenage and, once on Mars, it will drill two metres down under the surface and analyse the rocks. That’s below where radiation affects things, so we are more likely to find evidence of past or current life. By the end of the 2020s the rover will have collected the samples and be almost back on Earth. Assuming we can get it home safely, as we enter the 2030s we’ll be thinking of sending the first people to Mars.”

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