A&S Interview: Farouk El-Baz
A veteran space scientist discusses the challenges of the 21st Century.
- By Elizabeth Howell
- Air & Space magazine, November 2008
(Page 2 of 4)
El-Baz: In two ways. One, there will be plenty more branches for tourism in space for all kinds of varieties. There will be people who go there for less than an hour, and there will be others that would stay for a few days, and maybe others that want to stay for their whole vacation. So there’s no question about the fact that space travel in near Earth orbit will increase a great deal in the next century. There will be, maybe, I would say within 20 years, we will see all kinds of spacecraft floating in Earth orbit, taking people up to look at the Earth from space and feel the zero gravity effects and all of that.
In addition to that fact, space travel by trained astronauts will increase progressively because all kinds of other countries are preparing themselves for that. We know for certain that China is doing that vigorously, and India will be following suit not too long from today. And I would say that other nations like Japan and the Europeans might have their own long-term and long-range space travel within the solar system. So with that, there is definitely room to expand space travel. It will no longer be limited to the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
A&S: With the renewed impetus on private space travel, is there a place for NASA and other government-funded space agencies in the next century?
El-Baz: Yes, indeed. There’s the expense of space exploration for scientific purposes, to collect data and information about the outside world, or the solar system, and beyond. It’s something that actually must continue to be paid for by governments.
So, both NASA and the European countries, and the Soviet Union, will be joined soon by China and India and Japan. These countries will continue to expend money on collection of scientific data and knowledge from space, basically because in the process, you invent all kinds of things that become helpful to the economy.
If you consider space exploration in the United States of America, then you’d see that a great deal of what goes on in the world today, the way we communicate, the way we are using cell phones, the way we use television, the way we see events everywhere in the world, all of these incredible developments in the past half a century, was due to the fact that the space program occurred [due to advances in satellite technology and computer miniaturization]. And step by step, all kinds of things had to be done and therefore, applications were found for things that were done in space. So the governments see that expenditure on space exploration for the collection of knowledge has honest-to-God real benefits for the economic development of the country, and the world.
A&S: Much of your current research focuses on desert climates. What sort of advances in global travel are needed to better protect these environments?
El-Baz: Quite a bit, because of the fact that very few people really understand very dry environments, which we call the desert. And there is a great deal to learn from the desert, and from the way the desert used to be, and the changes that happened to these places. Because, these kinds of changes tell us of what might be happening in the future.