Mankind’s Venture into The Unknown

1400 years ago, a great prophecy was revealed from God, a prophecy which would foretell arguably mankind’s biggest achievement; the Conquest of Space.
يَا مَعْشَرَ الْجِنِّ وَالْإِنْسِ إِنِ اسْتَطَعْتُمْ أَنْ تَنْفُذُوا مِنْ أَقْطَارِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ فَانْفُذُوا لَا تَنْفُذُونَ إِلَّا بِسُلْطَانٍ

“O company of jinn and mankind, if you are able to pass beyond the regions of the heavens and the earth, then pass. You will not pass except by authority [from Allah].”

The Holy Qur’an (55:34)

1400 years ago, a great prophecy was revealed from God, a prophecy which would foretell arguably mankind’s biggest achievement; the Conquest of Space. This prophecy was fulfilled on 3rd October 1942, when the V2 rocket became the first man-made object to reach outer space. This was to lay the foundation for mankind venturing into the boundless three-dimensional extent which is known as Space. This article will look at man’s previous advances in terms of space exploration, what it is currently doing and it’s aspirations for the future.

The Inception of Space Exploration The years following World War 2 (WW2) were of great importance in terms of getting man into outer space. This largely consisted of American and Soviet efforts which eventually lead to what is known as the ‘Space Race’ during the Cold War. Despite many early advances during the ending years of WW2, no man-made object made an orbital flight until Sputnik 11 , Earth’s first artificial satellite, was launched on 4th October 1957 by the Soviet Union. The satellite itself was quite small, approximately 58cm in diameter, and simple in design contrary to satellites you may see nowadays. This soviet satellite provided scientists with valuable information regarding the density of the upper atmosphere and also information was gathered on the ionosphere (an ionic part of the atmosphere).

The launch of Sputnik 1 hastened the world’s thirst for space exploration even more and just 3 years later, the Soviet Union again made a breakthrough on 12th April 1961 when it sent the first human into space; Yuri Alekseyevich Gragarin . The preparation for this historical event started in 1960 when 20 talented pilots were chosen for the prestigious Soviet Space Program. After being subjected to experiments that tested physical and psychological endurance, eventually Gragarin was chosen for the first launch. On 12th April 1961,Yuri Gragarin was launched on board the Vostok 3KA-3(Vostok 1) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan making him not only the first person to reach outer space but also the first to orbit the Earth. Despite being the first manned spaceflight in history, the Vostok 1 spacecraft was not piloted by Gragarin himself but by automatic controls or ground control instead.

Continuing on with the Soviet successes, the United States in 1969 made history by landing the first humans on the Moon. Headed by mission commander Neil Armstrong and piloted by Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 mission was launched on board a Saturn V rocket from the Kennedy Space Centre on July 16th 1969 at approximately 13:32:00 . After approximately 12 minutes, the Saturn V rocket entered Earth’s orbit at an altitude of 100.4 nautical miles by 99.8 nautical miles and shortly after the spacecraft started its historic journey towards the Moon. Around 72 hours later on July 19th at 17:21:51 UTC , Apollo 11 headed past the moon and after firing its service propulsion engine it entered into the first of its thirty lunar orbits. On July 20th, the lunar module ‘Eagle’ began its descent with astronauts Neil Armstrong and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin on board after separating from the main command module ‘Columbia’ which was being controlled by command module pilot Michael Collins. Despite a miscalculation of the computer’s target landing site, the ‘Eagle’ module descended on the lunar surface at approximately 20:17:40 UTC on Sunday 20th July with only 25 seconds of fuel left. After a number of hours in preparation for the first moon-walk, at 02:39 UTC Neil Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module and at 02:51 UTC he made his descent down the ladder and onto the lunar surface where he made his famous statement “One small step for [a] man, One giant leap for mankind.” On July 24, the astronauts returned home aboard the Command Module Columbia just before dawn local time (16:51 UTC).

Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong

In the early 1970’s man launched the first orbital station capable of carrying a crew. The first orbital station to be launched from the planet was the Soviet Salyut 1 . The Salyut 1 was launched on 19th April 1971 into Earth’s orbit. After an unsuccessful Soyuz 10 mission that attempted to board crew on the Salyut 1 station, the Soyuz 11 mission successfully boarded 3 crew members on June 30th who remained on board for 23 days, however the entire crew was killed on re-entry to Earth. In the years following the launch of Salyut 1, many more orbital stations were launched by various nations across the globe including the multi-national International Space Station (ISS) which is the biggest artificial body in space and can be seen by the naked eye. The ISS has been continually inhabited by humans for 15 years and 344 days, making the longest continuous human in Earth’s orbit.

Current Space Exploration Projects

Now, in the 21st century, the human race has made leaps and bounds in terms of space exploration, with probes reaching several other planets, landing on comets and even going beyond our solar system and into interstellar space. With the focus lying more on launching probes to explore planets along with the rest of the solar system and on landing the first humans on the Red Planet, our aspirations are entirely different to what they were around 50 years ago. Main on-going missions include the Juno and Kepler probes and the ever-famous Curiosity rover which are all being operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The Curiosity rover is a robotic rover that was launched on November 26th 2011 from Cape Canaveral and after a 350 million mile journey it made its historic landing on a plain known as Aeolis Palus in the Gale Crater on August 6th 2012 at approximately 05:17 UTC. The main aim of the rover is to explore the 3.8 billion year old Gale Crater as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Mission (MSL) and investigate the climate and geology of the Red Planet and the role of water in order to prepare for future human exploration. The mission will also include exploring Aeolis Mons; a mountain on Mars that reaches up to 5.5km high and with its peak located in the Gale crater. The rover itself is approximately the size of a car and weighing in at 899kg it includes some extremely technical equipment which aid it with its mission. These include numerous cameras, a spectrometer and even an on-probe sample analysis device.

One of the main on-going probe missions of NASA is Juno which made history by entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 5th 2016 after being launched from Cape Canaveral, USA on August 5th 2011 as part of the New Frontiers program. The New Frontiers Program involves a number of space exploration missions which NASA is overseeing with the purpose of exploring several Solar System bodies, including Pluto. The main aim of the mission with Juno is to study Jupiter’s composition and gravity field. The mission will also study how the planet was formed and the amount of water present in Jupiter’s largely hydrogen atmosphere. The Juno probe’s main functioning body is rather small in size with its height reaching 3.5 metres and its diameter also of the same length. The spacecraft weighs in at approximately 3,600kg and is equipped with nine on-board sub-systems. These include a radiometer and a radio wave sensor. Most recently, the probe reached the planet’s North Pole, which scientists have said is unlike anything that has been encountered before in the Solar System, mainly due to odd storm systems and weather activity.

Another one of NASA’s ongoing missions is Kepler; a space observatory that aims to explore exoplanets which are orbiting stars. The spacecraft was launched March 7th, 2009 into a heliocentric orbit trailing the Earth. The scientific of the Kepler observatory is to observe and investigate an immense number of stars in order to achieve a number of goals that include determining how many Earth-sized planets there are in the habitable zone of a star and how many planets there are multiple-star systems. After a fruitful primary mission in finding exoplanets, the Kepler probe was given an extended mission in 2013. However NASA suffered a serious setback with the mission after two reaction wheels failed thus rendering the telescope inaccurate. Nonetheless, NASA was able to make the most of what functionality was left on the observatory by bringing into consideration a new mission by the name of “K2 Second Light”. This mission would be used to collect data in order to study supernova explosions, star formations and even more exoplanets. The spacecraft itself weighs in at approximately 1 tonne. It is very simple in design as the spacecraft is only equipped with only one on-board instrument that is used to measure the intensity of light.

Man’s Future Aspirations:

قَالَ فِيهَا تَحْيَوْنَ وَفِيهَا تَمُوتُونَ وَمِنْهَا تُخْرَجُونَ

He said: “Therein you will live, and therein you will die, and from it you will be brought forth.”

The Holy Qur’an (7:26)

One of the longstanding aspirations of the human race in regards to space exploration is terraforming. Terraforming is the process of transforming a planet so that it is able to host and sustain human life. There are many reasons to terraform a planet, with the main arguments in favour being that it will maximise space for human settlement, minimise the risk of environmental system failures, and a place where we, as a race, could move to if there is a danger posed to our planet such as critically low levels of resources or imminent destruction from celestial objects such as asteroids or meteors . Ethically this is considered a preposterous theory as man will be essentially be playing God by finding another world. The above verse from Surah al A’aaraf, shows that man will live in this world and here we will perish. Thus God intends for us to stay in this world and for us to remain here until our death. The process of terraforming is still essentially a theory and far from being made into reality. In fact this hypothesis is so far away from being made into reality that it may even take hundreds of years just for a feasible concept to be thought of. However this has not stopped scientists carrying out research to see if such an idea is even possible.

Martyn J. Fogg, an expert in the field, has come up with three different categories of planets and the level of effort that will be needed to terraform them. The three categories are:

  • Habitable planet – A habitable planet would be one that is ready for immediate colonisation and is so similar in characteristics to Earth that it could be inhabited with little or no effort.
  • Biocompatible planet – A biocompatible planet is described as a planet which already has the fundamental physical framework so that it could host a convoluted ecosystem if seeded with life.
  • Easily terraformable planet – An easily terraformable planet is described as one that could be made biocompatible with very little resources

Up till now there are no planets that have been discovered as immediately inhabited or as being easily terraformable. However, there are several planets that are seen as potential candidates for the human civilisation to terraform. These include Mars, Venus and Jupiter’s moon Europa. Additionally, the actual procedure of terraforming will vary from planet to planet.

Whilst Mars will need to be warmed up due to its extremely cold conditions, Venus would need to be cooled down due to intense heat. Scientists would also need to deal with the Venusian day which is approximately 116.3 Earth days, while no change would be required to Mars, as the average Martian day is equal to 1 Earth day plus another 40 minutes.

Search for Extra-terrestrial Life

For centuries there has been a question that the human race have been consistently been thinking about; is there life out there?

This prevalent question was in fact answered around 1400 years ago when the Holy Quran was revealed. In the 30th verse of chapter 42 it is written:

وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ خَلْقُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَثَّ فِيهِمَا مِنْ دَابَّةٍ

“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of whatever living creatures (da’bbah) He has spread forth in both…”

The Holy Qur’an (42:30)

The word da’bbah refers to animals which creep or move along the surface of the Earth and does not refer to any animal which has the ability to fly or swim. Moving on in the verse, it is shown that there is in fact extra-terrestrial life when it says that God has “spread forth in both”.

In the second part of the verse it is written

وَهُوَ عَلَى جَمْعِهِمْ إِذَا يَشَاءُ قَدِيرٌ

“…And He has the power to gather them together (jam-’i-him) when He will so please”

The Holy Qur’an (42:30)

The 30th verse of Al-Shura’a not only reveals the existence of extra-terrestrial life but also says that He (God) will bring together the life on earth and life on heavenly bodies whenever he wishes so. Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" in his book, Revelation Rationality Knowledge and Truth, explains that the word Jam-‘i-him is in fact an Arabic expression which refers to the bringing together of life on Earth and life elsewhere. This time of this meeting of the two has not been specified, nor whether is it explained if it will take place on Earth or somewhere else. It could be a face-to-face meeting or via some sort of communication.

Despite not being able to prove that such life exists elsewhere as of yet, much of the science world accept that the odds of extra-terrestrial life existing are extremely high. Many of the satellites and probes that have been recently launched all are equipped with instruments that are used in the investigation of possible life beyond our planet. The Curiosity rover for example has an instrument which cross-checks soil samples for microbial life.

This search for intelligent life in space is not restricted to only space agencies around world, with various projects being funded presently. The most prominent is Breakthrough Listen which is funded by Russian billionaire and backed by world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. The $100 million, 10 year, project is using two of the world’s most powerful telescopes to carry out an intensive search for alien life and listen out for potential signals.

Whether it is on Earth or on a dusty planet billions of light years away from us, whether it’s next year, or in century’s time, the Holy Qur’an has guaranteed it. We, as a race, will someday come in contact with extra-terrestrial life.

Conclusion

The planetary sciences have grown exponentially since the dawn of the space age since the early 1940’s and as a result of ever increasing space exploration the human race has seen an enhanced knowledge of not only space and the celestial bodies found within it but also of our Earth and its atmosphere. Nonetheless, with so much finance going towards space exploration nowadays, both at a public and private level, we must not forget our own planet and its inhabitants. We must make use of our advances in space exploration and find new and improved methods of taking care of our planet rather than just finding a completely new planet to inhabit.

Disclaimer

This article was originally published in the Annual Printed Edition of Majallatul Jamia

Mirza Usama Bashir Ahmad

Mirza Usama Bashir Ahmad

Student Jamia Ahmadiyya UK

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