Co-director of the working group of the National technology initiative Aeronet, general director of the CJCS "Technology Transfer Center", cosmonaut Sergei Zhukov told the Bulletin of the Bauman University "Engineer" how the space program will get developed and what tasks would be popular among the new generation of engineers.
Today more and more people come to the conclusion that we are all in the grand update. What role could cosmonautics play in the building the future?
- I have ambivalent feelings. Yes, there are reasons to think that humanity is on the verge of positive change. The speed of technological development, the duration and quality of life in developed countries are increasing.
Space research plays an important role in these updates. Astronomy and astrophysics are pushing the boundaries of knowledge. I mean avalanche discovery of exoplanets with a possible life on part of them and registration of gravitational waves, opening up the prospect of understanding the nature of space-time.
Planetology as sciences complex plays an important role in our realization as cosmic beings. Earthlings have accustomed to the fact that the orbital and planet-based vehicles step by step study Mars. We are witnesses of how the materials of asteroid and comet nuclei were studied, photographed the peripheral bodies of the solar system at close range. And the solar system indeed, with the Kuiper belt, was overcome by "Voyagers" for forty years of the flight. These vehicles are already out in interstellar space.
The permanent presence of astronauts in orbit as representatives of humanity is also important circumstance of our lives. Practical visionaries, such as Elon Musk, predict the landing of humans on Mars within the next 20 years, and do a lot for this goal. There is a growing number of reports on the work of non-chemical rocket engines, which are expected to enable to reach the Red planet within the month and even two weeks.
On the other hand, there are reasons for more restrained forecasts.
The experience of mankind shows that the reality is much more complicated than we draw it in our foresight.
Scientific and technological development is uneven in various areas. Informative, cognitive, medical and biological technologies occupy the first place in the rankings, while space exploration is developing not as fast as it was dreamed fifty years ago. One day I saw a collection of articles of American researchers ("Space Age. Forecasts for 2001"), dated 1965 (translation appeared in the USSR in 1970). They analyzed the prospects of space development by 2001-th year.
According to the findings of the authors, American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts had not only to visit the moon and Mars by this time, but also to explore the most remote parts of the solar system. As the authors suggested, it would be possible of using engines based on gas-phase nuclear, thermonuclear! What wonderful materials with amazing properties are not used! But at the turn of centuries mankind has only a few crews visited the moon by "Apollo" program. China joined the leading countries in space exploration, which the authors of the forecast did not foresee. I will not be surprised if we hear about taikonauts as active space explorers by the middle of the century.
Today work in space seems to us as a kind of routine. Although the complexity of the technical problems solved by scientists and engineers nowadays is disproportionately higher than it was in the 50-60-ies. What is a breakthrough in space today?
- I do not quite agree with your statement. For pioneers of 1950-1960's it was much more difficult to put into the orbit the first satellite, sent the first man into space. The big unknown is in the task at hand.
Of course, the number of operations in space has increased (including manned flights). In the time of Yuri Gagarin cosmonaut had to know dozens of transactions. Today cosmonauts and astronauts perform tens of thousands of transactions at the ISS, in accordance with the vehicle documentation. The degree of automation of the station management and the payload has grown tremendously. Wonderful developer Nikolai Kuznetsov was unable to provide work for thirty engines of the first stage of the rocket H-1 is largely due to the fact that the equipment was imperfect. The accident with the engines was one of the main causes of series failed rocket launches that became one of the main factors of the closure of the Soviet lunar program. Today automatic solves similar problems much more successful with the help of the expense of fundamental growth of computing power.
In 2012, I was lucky to be in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and see the landing of Curiosity rover to the Red planet.
Tell me, is it possible to control the landing from the Earth to Mars, if there is a radio signal of 16 minutes that is much longer than dynamic operations ? For reference: the entrance to the atmosphere, the parachute release, landing site selection and development of all elements of the landing take 7 minutes, which called "seven minutes of terror" at JPL. When the event has occurred, operators need to wait another 16 minutes to find out about it. Equipment did it all.
On the other hand, we live in a world where everything simple is difficult and vice versa. The increasing complexity of the system does not lead to an increase in reliability. Sophisticated equipment can be replaced with a series of simple technical solutions of a different kind.
I would direct the reader's mind not towards the search path for the growth of computing capabilities and automation excellence, but to the fundamentally different solutions to known problems in order to avoid situations where even the automation and sophisticated algorithms give failures.
In accordance with the Hamburg account, the magnitude of today's research raises questions. We cannot exploit even the moon. Current and future Tsiolkovskie must resolve questions of exploitation of the solar system and the adjacent galaxies. Then the flight to Mars will be a small milestone in the history of space development.
Equipment of the future will be more intelligent, adaptive, autonomous and, apparently, using principles which are not opened and / or recognized by todays science. But the breakthrough you mentioned would be linked to joint work in space by astronaut, supported from the earth, and the accompanying automatic machines, sophisticated robots. Flights of the man deeply into the solar system must be prepared by the success of a complex of science. This is about space medicine, biology and psychology (the result is a new astronaut, more prepared for the long-haul flights), astrophysics (the new picture of the physical world), materials science and engineering disciplines (a new generation of space vehicles and infrastructure). Of course, we need other engines with high-thrust, which are able to operate continuously for a long period of time.