Rockstar Scientist Brian Cox: 5 Things You Need To Know About The Future Of Space Travel
In a world of Kardashians and Jenners, it seems unlikely that a particle physicist would become a global TV sensation—and yet that’s exactly what’s happened to Brian Cox. For more than 10 years, British scientist Cox has been a fixture on screens around the world, making stories such as the formation of the sun and nuclear fusion interesting and accessible to people of all ages.
Cox's immersive live stage show, which covers everything from black holes to the likelihood of alien life to the future of humankind, sells out stadiums worldwide and recently set Guinness World Records for selling the most tickets for a science tour and for the largest science show ever performed.
Here, Cox shares five insights into the future of space travel.
1/5 Humankind will not survive without space exploration
“It’s not science fiction any more to say, ‘If we’re going to continue to expand as a civilisation, how are we going to do it without damaging this planet?'. To me, there’s only one answer—if we want to expand, we have to expand upwards. We cannot continue to sit on the surface of a planet that’s already under strain. And we will go to Mars because there’s nowhere else to go."
Jeff Bezos has a lovely line: he says the one thing we’ve discovered about going into space is that the Earth is the best planet. So how do we protect it? His idea is to zone the Earth as residential, which is a very good idea. His ambition is not to have heavy industry on the planet, but to have it off the planet.
The power and resources are not here on Earth—they’re up there in the asteroid belt. The power is a few hundred miles above our heads. There are already asteroid mining companies. Ask yourself why three of the most dynamic entrepreneurs in the world—Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and [Virgin’s] Richard Branson—have rocket companies. One is purely economic—there’s loads of money in it."
2/5 Man will set foot on Mars within the next “two decades”
Cox believes an expedition to Mars is now well within our power. “SpaceX want to go to Mars within a decade,” he says. “It’s possible that you could, if you had the investment. I think we know how to do it. But I think it’s likely to be more like two decades until mankind is on Mars. But you never know—it’s been remarkable how fast SpaceX and Blue Origin are advancing.”
"The great change in the last few years is the development of reusable rockets, and SpaceX is in the lead there. For the first time in history we can fly into space and then bring the thing that took us into space back again.”
These rockets could carry astronauts, scientists and, eventually, anyone who wanted or needed to move from Earth. “There’s a plan called Mars Direct, which is basically a plan to send the stuff first,” explains Cox. “You send the base first, without the people, then once the base is working you send people. Then it’s a permanent settlement and it grows.”
See also: Yuri And Julia Milner: Breakthrough Prize Founders On Philanthropy, Science And The Search For Alien Life
3/5 Satellites are vital for monitoring climate change
“Satellites are used for everything from communications to satellite navigation, but, perhaps most importantly, they’re used for climate monitoring. The reason we know what the climate’s doing, the reason we know about deforestation, the reason we know about changes in land use patterns is because we have satellites in space that are looking back at our planet.”
4/5 Space travel is crucial to the economy
Some commentators complain about the amount of money pumped into space exploration—the fact that governments are rumoured to spend more on space travel than exploring the oceans is a fact that’s often bandied around. But Cox believes space travel pays back every dollar of this investment—and then some.
“The Apollo programme, for example, was obviously quite a large expenditure,” says Cox. “But the most authoritative study of this spending, which was done by Chase McKinney Metrics, shows that there was a 14:1 return on [that investment] by 1980.”
“And that’s not surprising because if you think about what actually happened, you think about Apollo, the average age at Nasa at the time was under 30, so you had hundreds if not thousands of engineers under 30 working on the most challenging problem you could possibly work on. And they didn’t disappear—they went out into the economy afterwards. When you’re flying on Boeing or Airbus planes, a lot of that technology comes from investment in aerospace.”
See also: Why China's Richest Man, Pony Ma, Is Investing In Space
5/5 China is investing heavily in space exploration
American companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin may be grabbing the headlines, but the Chinese government is investing heavily in aerospace technology, too. “China has a space programme that has advanced extremely rapidly and is doing very well and is very successful, so I don’t think anyone should underestimate in China,” says Cox.
“China is doing a lot and has a lot of resources and is expanding its university system and has a great history of intellectual capital.”
See also: Rocket Men: Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin