Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Wonder Friend. Wonder Friend Wonders, “How Does Reusability Affect Space Travel?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Wonder Friend!
3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . Liftoff!
Do you dream of hearing those words in person one day? Just imagine—one minute, you’re standing with your two feet on the Earth’s surface. The next, you’re blasting off for a space adventure!
Where in space would you go? Maybe you’ll head to the Moon, another planet, or even a different galaxy. Perhaps you’ll live in an O’Neill colony. Whatever your destination, there’s a good chance you’ll get there using a technology that many today see as the future of space travel: the reusable rocket.
If you’ve read about NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, this may sound familiar. Space Shuttles were the world’s first reusable spacecrafts. That program ended in 2011. Today, private companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX hope to build the future of reusable rockets.
How could reusability affect space travel? Think about it this way: What if airplanes could only fly once? Just imagine all the time and resources people would spend building a brand new plane for every flight. That’s how most space travel has worked for much of history—a new rocket is made for every mission. As you would expect, reusability could improve space travel in many ways.
One benefit is affordability. Rocket launches cost millions—sometimes billions—of dollars. In the Space Shuttle Program, the shuttles themselves were reusable, but the rockets were not. This made the program very expensive. When rockets can be used more than once, the price goes down. Some estimates say reusability could make space travel 100 times cheaper.
This would make space travel accessible to more people. It could allow more scientists to learn and test new ideas, expanding human knowledge. Just imagine carrying out your next chemistry experiment in the vacuum of space or on the surface of the Moon!
Of course, reusable space travel could also bring private citizens to space. Ready to book your seat on the next trip to the Moon? Keep in mind that the cost of tickets on these early flights may still be quite high—but over time, they will become more affordable.
Lowering the price wouldn’t mean cutting corners in safety, though. Reusable rockets are checked out between missions, much like airplanes are between flights. Crews make any needed repairs to ensure the success of future missions.
Many people also hope that reusable rockets will shrink the carbon footprint of space travel. They’ll still need thousands of gallons of fuel (though far less than the 950,000 gallons that took Apollo 11 to the moon and back). However, the rockets’ reusability will cut back the number of natural resources spent on space travel.
There are a few reusable rockets already in use. Blue Origin’s New Shepard, named for astronaut Alan Shepard, is fully reusable. It is fueled by hydrogen and oxygen, making it carbon neutral. Blue Origin has also built New Glenn, named for astronaut John Glenn. This rocket is built to last 25 missions. These, along with SpaceX’s Falcon 9, are designed to carry people and payloads into space.
Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.SL.1