Member only
Episode
178

The Space Race - Part Three | The New Space Race

Jul 23, 2021
Science & Technology
-
20
minutes
Space
Technology
The Cold War
China
Russia
Philosophy
Entrepreneurship

In 2019, former Vice President Mike Pence said "Make no mistake about it - we're in a space race today".

Discover who the key players are, why there is a renewed interest in going to space, why it is now cheaper than ever before, and what the future of space exploration might look like.

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Alastair Budge: [00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today is Part 3 of our 3-part series on The Space Race.

[00:00:28] In Part One, we talked about how it started, and how the Soviets scored some early victories, putting the first satellite into space, the first animal into space, and then the first human into space.

[00:00:41] In Part Two, which was one of our member-only episodes, we talked about the second half of The Space Race, the race to put a man on the moon. 

[00:00:51] And you don’t have to have listened to that episode to know that the Americans won that particular battle.

[00:00:58] And in today’s episode, Part Three, we are going to talk about what has been called The New Space Race. 

[00:01:05] In this episode we’ll cover what has happened since the end of the first Space Race, ask ourselves why people have started talking about a “new” Space Race, what is actually happening, why, and what might the future hold for space exploration.

[00:01:22] Before we get right into today’s episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:37] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, such as Part Two of this mini series, as well as almost another 100 extra ones.

[00:01:49] Plus you’ll get access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:57] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:02:08] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:02:18] OK, let’s get started, and talk about The New Space Race.

[00:02:23] Let’s briefly remind ourselves where we left off in Part Two. 

[00:02:28] On July 20th, 1969, the United States of America became the first country to put a man on the moon, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo Lunar Module and uttered the famous words “this is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

[00:02:48] Putting a man on the moon had been the big prize, and the Americans had scooped it, they had won.

[00:02:55] After that, enthusiasm for space exploration in America dwindled, it reduced significantly. Part of this was because the US government greatly lowered the budget for NASA, it reduced the amount of money it set aside for space exploration. 

[00:03:14] Part of it was because there wasn’t another attainable big next step. 

[00:03:20] Putting a man on Mars was too complicated, and Venus was impossible. 

[00:03:26] The moon had been the big one, and the Americans had already done it.

[00:03:31] It was also incredibly expensive. The cost of the Apollo programme, which was the initiative to send an American to the moon, is estimated to be around $200 billion dollars in today’s money.

[00:03:45] Space wasn’t cheap.

[00:03:47] And on the other side of the Atlantic, or of the Pacific I guess, the USSR was starting to fall apart. 

[00:03:55] It had lost the Space Race at the final hurdle, and although it did continue its space programme, it was vastly reduced compared to the 1950s and 1960s. 

[00:04:06] The enthusiasm for big, ambitious space missions was not what it was, and no decade has been as dominated by space exploration as the 1960s was.

[00:04:19] Indeed, there are only 12 people who have ever been to the moon, and two of them, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first two people to do it.

[00:04:30] So, what has changed? Has anything changed?

[00:04:34] Well, yes. A quick Google will reveal hundreds of thousands of results for “The New Space Race”, with videos and articles proclaiming that we are either in the middle, or about to start, a similar Space Race again, but this time with more players, and much higher stakes.

[00:04:55] Indeed, it isn’t just sensationalist headlines, here’s the former Vice President of the US, Mike Pence.

[00:05:02] Mike Pence: [00:05:02] And make no mistake about it. We are in a space race today. Just as we were in the 1960s. And the stakes are even higher.

[00:05:11] Alastair Budge: [00:05:11] So, what is actually happening?

[00:05:14] There is certainly much more interest in space exploration than there was 30 years ago, there is more investment in space exploration technology, there are more companies working on it, and there is more activity in space now than there ever was during the first Space Race.

[00:05:32] For starters, there are more countries that have taken an interest in space exploration.

[00:05:38] The USA and Russia are still two dominant players in space exploration, but they have been joined by China. 

[00:05:46] To date, up until now, only these three countries are capable of sending people to space.

[00:05:53] But, the number of countries that are able to send rockets into space, and therefore send objects such as satellites or probes to other planets, has dramatically increased, and there are currently 11 - alongside the US, Russia and China, we have France, Japan, the UK, India, Israel, Ukraine, Iran and North Korea.

[00:06:17] What the past 20 years has seen though, which has been a major difference between the first space race and now, is the emergence of private space companies, companies that are building their own space exploration technology. 

[00:06:32] Why this is important is that it no longer means that a country has to either build its own rocket technology or pay another country to allow it to take its astronauts, or other spacecraft, to space.

[00:06:45] Private companies, which have the objective of making a profit, will be happy to take these people, satellites, or anything else to space, for the right price, of course.

[00:06:56] You have probably heard of some of these companies, but the dominant three are SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, who is also the boss of Tesla and was a founder of Paypal.

[00:07:08] Then there is Virgin Galactic, which is backed by Richard Branson, another billionaire and the founder of the Virgin group of companies. Technically Virgin Galactic is focussing on sending spacecraft to the edge of space, but it is still a dominant player. 

[00:07:26] And the final one is Blue Origin, the space exploration company founded and financed by Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon.

[00:07:36] You can see the theme here - you have to have a lot of money to start a space exploration company...

[00:07:43] Although space exploration is still not cheap, the arrival of these private companies has increased competition, meaning that the cost of getting to space is lower than ever before.

[00:07:56] Indeed, for the 30 years between 1970 and 2000 the cost per kilo of sending an object to space remained pretty constant, at around 18,500 dollars per dollars per kilo. The American NASA space shuttles were even more expensive, at 54,500 dollars per kilo.

[00:08:19] Now, SpaceX has reduced that cost to under $3,000 per kilogram. Still not cheap, but it’s 20 times cheaper than the space shuttle. It has done this mainly by developing reusable rocket technology. 

[00:08:36] You may have seen clips of the Falcon rocket, the SpaceX rocket, returning to Earth, where it can be refurbished, and then reused, which of course results in a large cost saving.

[00:08:49] These companies don’t exist for the public good, of course. They exist to make money.

[00:08:54] As we’ve heard, Space exploration has historically been very expensive, and it was a notoriously difficult industry for companies to make money in.

[00:09:05] But, the prize is so large, and investors think there is so much money to be made, that billions of dollars are flooding into the sector.

[00:09:15] The space industry is worth just under 500 billion dollars at the moment, and is predicted to triple to 1.4 trillion by the end of the decade, and to continue to rise after that.

[00:09:29] Why? 

[00:09:30] Well, partly, given that it has become cheaper and cheaper to get to space, more countries are doing it.

[00:09:38] Faced also with a finite amount of natural resources on Earth, there are those who believe that the solution to this is to take natural resources from outer space, and bring them back down to Earth. 

[00:09:51] This is called space mining.

[00:09:54] There is the belief that a single football-pitch size asteroid is going to contain as much as $50 billion worth of platinum.

[00:10:04] Of course, actually getting the platinum out of the asteroid and back to Earth is another question, but there is a growing belief that space does contain vast amounts of minerals that we need back on Earth.

[00:10:18] The money to be made in space isn’t only going to come from what is found in space, though, but rather what putting objects in space enables us to do.

[00:10:28] Specifically, satellites, and what they allow both us as individuals, and nation states, to achieve.

[00:10:36] On an individual level, we are all great beneficiaries of a large satellite network.

[00:10:42] GPS, the Global Positioning System, which is made possible by only 24 satellites, means that you or I can turn on our phone and see where we are.

[00:10:54] When it comes to mobile phone reception, unless you have a satellite phone, you don’t currently get mobile phone signal from space. If you live in a relatively urban area, this isn’t a problem. 

[00:11:06] But there are more than 2 billion people worldwide who don’t have mobile phone coverage. 

[00:11:13] There is evidently a huge amount of money to be made in connecting this unconnected population, and doing this from satellites in space is one particular popular option.

[00:11:26] And when it comes to countries, and national security, having a satellite network in space comes in pretty handy

[00:11:34] While there are plenty of concerns about the right to privacy, being able to watch over your citizens from above is an attractive idea from a security perspective, especially for countries that aren’t so concerned about the privacy of their citizens.

[00:11:51] And the result of this is that there are more satellites than ever before, around 6,000 circling the Earth, of which only about 40% actually work.

[00:12:02] The rest? Well, they are either broken or are no longer in use.

[00:12:08] Bringing them down to Earth is expensive, and so they are just left up there.

[00:12:14] And while space is, to state the obvious, absolutely massive, there is a growing concern about the amount of rubbish that is up there, so called “space junk”.

[00:12:26] Because of the high cost and difficulty of bringing things back down to Earth, whether it is a broken satellite, a misplaced screwdriver, or a fuel tank, there is a lot of stuff in space that has just been left there by humans.

[00:12:43] NASA currently tracks these.

[00:12:45] According to its website, there are approximately 23,000 pieces of debris larger than 30cm, half a million pieces larger than 1 centimetre in diameter, and approximately 100 million pieces larger than 1 centimetre in diameter. 

[00:13:03] That’s a lot of space junk.

[00:13:05] And it isn’t just floating around harmlessly, given the gravitational pull of the Earth, it is traveling incredibly fast, it’s travelling at around 25,000 kilometres an hour.

[00:13:19] This means that even a very small object could do great damage to a spaceship or satellite. These objects are made to be light, so that they are easier to launch into space, they aren’t built to withstand collisions with other objects at 25,000 kilometres per hour.

[00:13:39] So it is certainly a growing concern, with no easy immediate solution.

[00:13:45] Another element of space exploration that is also in need of a solution is the laws that apply to space.

[00:13:53] In 1967, 10 years after the first satellite was launched, the Outer Space Treaty was signed, which sets out the principles of what you can and cannot do in space.

[00:14:05] It includes things like there should be no nuclear weapons in space, that the Moon should be used for peaceful purposes, and that space should be free for exploration by all states.

[00:14:17] But there are those who argue that it is now out of date, and fails to reflect the true nature of what mankind’s ambitions for space really are. 

[00:14:29] For example, how would space mining work? Who would “own” a settlement on the Moon, or Mars?

[00:14:37] There is a treaty relating to what you can and cannot do on the moon, called The Moon Treaty. It specifies things like natural resources found on the moon should be shared by all of humanity, and you cannot own the Moon. 

[00:14:52] But importantly it hasn’t been signed by any countries that can actually go to the Moon, and most importantly it hasn’t been signed by the three dominant players in space exploration - the US, Russia and China - so it’s not really worth the paper it’s written on.

[00:15:11] So, when it comes to the laws of space, there is still a lot to figure out. 

[00:15:17] But it is a very exciting time, and if this next phase of space exploration is anything like the first Space Race, then it will result in huge technological breakthroughs for us, back on Earth.

[00:15:31] Indeed, while one might look at space exploration and think “well, that doesn’t apply to me, as I’m not too keen on living on Mars”, the exciting thing about space exploration is how it might make our lives, back on Earth, better.

[00:15:46] Many of the technologies that came from the original Space Race were completely unexpected, from baby milk formula to memory foam for beds, and there will no doubt be discoveries that vastly improve our quality of life in this new space race.

[00:16:04] And one of the reasons that so many commentators are so much more optimistic about this “space race” than the previous one is that it is highly collaborative

[00:16:14] Yes, there are still some regional rivalries, and it is of course a matter of great pride for a country to “own” a space discovery, or to be the first country to do something in space, but this new era of space exploration is the polar opposite of The Space Race of the 1950s and 60s.

[00:16:36] While the USSR and the US were fierce enemies, hiding their technological developments from one another and operating like space exploration was a zero sum game, the modern era is dominated by collaboration.

[00:16:52] After the NASA space shuttle programme ended in 2011, American astronauts were actually taken to space by Russian spaceships. This stopped in 2020, after SpaceX won the contract, but was a sign of how collaborative these two ex-enemies now were.

[00:17:11] In March of 2021 Russia and China signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a Lunar Research Centre, a research centre on the moon, and they offered equal access to any nation that wants to participate.

[00:17:27] Now that it is no longer a public competition, and there is the spirit that space exploration is a benefit for mankind, and not the citizens of one particular country, the modern space era is dominated by collaboration, not competition.

[00:17:44] While one can only hazard a guess about what might come next, it is hard to deny that it is very, very exciting.

[00:17:54] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The New Space Race, and with that comes the end of this mini-series on The Space Race. I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned something new, and that it gave you a renewed interest in what we can all see when we look up.

[00:18:11] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. What are you most excited about for the future of space exploration? 

[00:18:20] Do you even think it’s exciting, or do you think we should prioritise the planet we are on right now? I would love to know.

[00:18:27] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:38] As a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, including part two of this mini series, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:18:55] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:19:08] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com. You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:19] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

Alastair Budge: [00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today is Part 3 of our 3-part series on The Space Race.

[00:00:28] In Part One, we talked about how it started, and how the Soviets scored some early victories, putting the first satellite into space, the first animal into space, and then the first human into space.

[00:00:41] In Part Two, which was one of our member-only episodes, we talked about the second half of The Space Race, the race to put a man on the moon. 

[00:00:51] And you don’t have to have listened to that episode to know that the Americans won that particular battle.

[00:00:58] And in today’s episode, Part Three, we are going to talk about what has been called The New Space Race. 

[00:01:05] In this episode we’ll cover what has happened since the end of the first Space Race, ask ourselves why people have started talking about a “new” Space Race, what is actually happening, why, and what might the future hold for space exploration.

[00:01:22] Before we get right into today’s episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:37] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, such as Part Two of this mini series, as well as almost another 100 extra ones.

[00:01:49] Plus you’ll get access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:57] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:02:08] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:02:18] OK, let’s get started, and talk about The New Space Race.

[00:02:23] Let’s briefly remind ourselves where we left off in Part Two. 

[00:02:28] On July 20th, 1969, the United States of America became the first country to put a man on the moon, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo Lunar Module and uttered the famous words “this is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

[00:02:48] Putting a man on the moon had been the big prize, and the Americans had scooped it, they had won.

[00:02:55] After that, enthusiasm for space exploration in America dwindled, it reduced significantly. Part of this was because the US government greatly lowered the budget for NASA, it reduced the amount of money it set aside for space exploration. 

[00:03:14] Part of it was because there wasn’t another attainable big next step. 

[00:03:20] Putting a man on Mars was too complicated, and Venus was impossible. 

[00:03:26] The moon had been the big one, and the Americans had already done it.

[00:03:31] It was also incredibly expensive. The cost of the Apollo programme, which was the initiative to send an American to the moon, is estimated to be around $200 billion dollars in today’s money.

[00:03:45] Space wasn’t cheap.

[00:03:47] And on the other side of the Atlantic, or of the Pacific I guess, the USSR was starting to fall apart. 

[00:03:55] It had lost the Space Race at the final hurdle, and although it did continue its space programme, it was vastly reduced compared to the 1950s and 1960s. 

[00:04:06] The enthusiasm for big, ambitious space missions was not what it was, and no decade has been as dominated by space exploration as the 1960s was.

[00:04:19] Indeed, there are only 12 people who have ever been to the moon, and two of them, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first two people to do it.

[00:04:30] So, what has changed? Has anything changed?

[00:04:34] Well, yes. A quick Google will reveal hundreds of thousands of results for “The New Space Race”, with videos and articles proclaiming that we are either in the middle, or about to start, a similar Space Race again, but this time with more players, and much higher stakes.

[00:04:55] Indeed, it isn’t just sensationalist headlines, here’s the former Vice President of the US, Mike Pence.

[00:05:02] Mike Pence: [00:05:02] And make no mistake about it. We are in a space race today. Just as we were in the 1960s. And the stakes are even higher.

[00:05:11] Alastair Budge: [00:05:11] So, what is actually happening?

[00:05:14] There is certainly much more interest in space exploration than there was 30 years ago, there is more investment in space exploration technology, there are more companies working on it, and there is more activity in space now than there ever was during the first Space Race.

[00:05:32] For starters, there are more countries that have taken an interest in space exploration.

[00:05:38] The USA and Russia are still two dominant players in space exploration, but they have been joined by China. 

[00:05:46] To date, up until now, only these three countries are capable of sending people to space.

[00:05:53] But, the number of countries that are able to send rockets into space, and therefore send objects such as satellites or probes to other planets, has dramatically increased, and there are currently 11 - alongside the US, Russia and China, we have France, Japan, the UK, India, Israel, Ukraine, Iran and North Korea.

[00:06:17] What the past 20 years has seen though, which has been a major difference between the first space race and now, is the emergence of private space companies, companies that are building their own space exploration technology. 

[00:06:32] Why this is important is that it no longer means that a country has to either build its own rocket technology or pay another country to allow it to take its astronauts, or other spacecraft, to space.

[00:06:45] Private companies, which have the objective of making a profit, will be happy to take these people, satellites, or anything else to space, for the right price, of course.

[00:06:56] You have probably heard of some of these companies, but the dominant three are SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, who is also the boss of Tesla and was a founder of Paypal.

[00:07:08] Then there is Virgin Galactic, which is backed by Richard Branson, another billionaire and the founder of the Virgin group of companies. Technically Virgin Galactic is focussing on sending spacecraft to the edge of space, but it is still a dominant player. 

[00:07:26] And the final one is Blue Origin, the space exploration company founded and financed by Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon.

[00:07:36] You can see the theme here - you have to have a lot of money to start a space exploration company...

[00:07:43] Although space exploration is still not cheap, the arrival of these private companies has increased competition, meaning that the cost of getting to space is lower than ever before.

[00:07:56] Indeed, for the 30 years between 1970 and 2000 the cost per kilo of sending an object to space remained pretty constant, at around 18,500 dollars per dollars per kilo. The American NASA space shuttles were even more expensive, at 54,500 dollars per kilo.

[00:08:19] Now, SpaceX has reduced that cost to under $3,000 per kilogram. Still not cheap, but it’s 20 times cheaper than the space shuttle. It has done this mainly by developing reusable rocket technology. 

[00:08:36] You may have seen clips of the Falcon rocket, the SpaceX rocket, returning to Earth, where it can be refurbished, and then reused, which of course results in a large cost saving.

[00:08:49] These companies don’t exist for the public good, of course. They exist to make money.

[00:08:54] As we’ve heard, Space exploration has historically been very expensive, and it was a notoriously difficult industry for companies to make money in.

[00:09:05] But, the prize is so large, and investors think there is so much money to be made, that billions of dollars are flooding into the sector.

[00:09:15] The space industry is worth just under 500 billion dollars at the moment, and is predicted to triple to 1.4 trillion by the end of the decade, and to continue to rise after that.

[00:09:29] Why? 

[00:09:30] Well, partly, given that it has become cheaper and cheaper to get to space, more countries are doing it.

[00:09:38] Faced also with a finite amount of natural resources on Earth, there are those who believe that the solution to this is to take natural resources from outer space, and bring them back down to Earth. 

[00:09:51] This is called space mining.

[00:09:54] There is the belief that a single football-pitch size asteroid is going to contain as much as $50 billion worth of platinum.

[00:10:04] Of course, actually getting the platinum out of the asteroid and back to Earth is another question, but there is a growing belief that space does contain vast amounts of minerals that we need back on Earth.

[00:10:18] The money to be made in space isn’t only going to come from what is found in space, though, but rather what putting objects in space enables us to do.

[00:10:28] Specifically, satellites, and what they allow both us as individuals, and nation states, to achieve.

[00:10:36] On an individual level, we are all great beneficiaries of a large satellite network.

[00:10:42] GPS, the Global Positioning System, which is made possible by only 24 satellites, means that you or I can turn on our phone and see where we are.

[00:10:54] When it comes to mobile phone reception, unless you have a satellite phone, you don’t currently get mobile phone signal from space. If you live in a relatively urban area, this isn’t a problem. 

[00:11:06] But there are more than 2 billion people worldwide who don’t have mobile phone coverage. 

[00:11:13] There is evidently a huge amount of money to be made in connecting this unconnected population, and doing this from satellites in space is one particular popular option.

[00:11:26] And when it comes to countries, and national security, having a satellite network in space comes in pretty handy

[00:11:34] While there are plenty of concerns about the right to privacy, being able to watch over your citizens from above is an attractive idea from a security perspective, especially for countries that aren’t so concerned about the privacy of their citizens.

[00:11:51] And the result of this is that there are more satellites than ever before, around 6,000 circling the Earth, of which only about 40% actually work.

[00:12:02] The rest? Well, they are either broken or are no longer in use.

[00:12:08] Bringing them down to Earth is expensive, and so they are just left up there.

[00:12:14] And while space is, to state the obvious, absolutely massive, there is a growing concern about the amount of rubbish that is up there, so called “space junk”.

[00:12:26] Because of the high cost and difficulty of bringing things back down to Earth, whether it is a broken satellite, a misplaced screwdriver, or a fuel tank, there is a lot of stuff in space that has just been left there by humans.

[00:12:43] NASA currently tracks these.

[00:12:45] According to its website, there are approximately 23,000 pieces of debris larger than 30cm, half a million pieces larger than 1 centimetre in diameter, and approximately 100 million pieces larger than 1 centimetre in diameter. 

[00:13:03] That’s a lot of space junk.

[00:13:05] And it isn’t just floating around harmlessly, given the gravitational pull of the Earth, it is traveling incredibly fast, it’s travelling at around 25,000 kilometres an hour.

[00:13:19] This means that even a very small object could do great damage to a spaceship or satellite. These objects are made to be light, so that they are easier to launch into space, they aren’t built to withstand collisions with other objects at 25,000 kilometres per hour.

[00:13:39] So it is certainly a growing concern, with no easy immediate solution.

[00:13:45] Another element of space exploration that is also in need of a solution is the laws that apply to space.

[00:13:53] In 1967, 10 years after the first satellite was launched, the Outer Space Treaty was signed, which sets out the principles of what you can and cannot do in space.

[00:14:05] It includes things like there should be no nuclear weapons in space, that the Moon should be used for peaceful purposes, and that space should be free for exploration by all states.

[00:14:17] But there are those who argue that it is now out of date, and fails to reflect the true nature of what mankind’s ambitions for space really are. 

[00:14:29] For example, how would space mining work? Who would “own” a settlement on the Moon, or Mars?

[00:14:37] There is a treaty relating to what you can and cannot do on the moon, called The Moon Treaty. It specifies things like natural resources found on the moon should be shared by all of humanity, and you cannot own the Moon. 

[00:14:52] But importantly it hasn’t been signed by any countries that can actually go to the Moon, and most importantly it hasn’t been signed by the three dominant players in space exploration - the US, Russia and China - so it’s not really worth the paper it’s written on.

[00:15:11] So, when it comes to the laws of space, there is still a lot to figure out. 

[00:15:17] But it is a very exciting time, and if this next phase of space exploration is anything like the first Space Race, then it will result in huge technological breakthroughs for us, back on Earth.

[00:15:31] Indeed, while one might look at space exploration and think “well, that doesn’t apply to me, as I’m not too keen on living on Mars”, the exciting thing about space exploration is how it might make our lives, back on Earth, better.

[00:15:46] Many of the technologies that came from the original Space Race were completely unexpected, from baby milk formula to memory foam for beds, and there will no doubt be discoveries that vastly improve our quality of life in this new space race.

[00:16:04] And one of the reasons that so many commentators are so much more optimistic about this “space race” than the previous one is that it is highly collaborative

[00:16:14] Yes, there are still some regional rivalries, and it is of course a matter of great pride for a country to “own” a space discovery, or to be the first country to do something in space, but this new era of space exploration is the polar opposite of The Space Race of the 1950s and 60s.

[00:16:36] While the USSR and the US were fierce enemies, hiding their technological developments from one another and operating like space exploration was a zero sum game, the modern era is dominated by collaboration.

[00:16:52] After the NASA space shuttle programme ended in 2011, American astronauts were actually taken to space by Russian spaceships. This stopped in 2020, after SpaceX won the contract, but was a sign of how collaborative these two ex-enemies now were.

[00:17:11] In March of 2021 Russia and China signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a Lunar Research Centre, a research centre on the moon, and they offered equal access to any nation that wants to participate.

[00:17:27] Now that it is no longer a public competition, and there is the spirit that space exploration is a benefit for mankind, and not the citizens of one particular country, the modern space era is dominated by collaboration, not competition.

[00:17:44] While one can only hazard a guess about what might come next, it is hard to deny that it is very, very exciting.

[00:17:54] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The New Space Race, and with that comes the end of this mini-series on The Space Race. I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned something new, and that it gave you a renewed interest in what we can all see when we look up.

[00:18:11] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. What are you most excited about for the future of space exploration? 

[00:18:20] Do you even think it’s exciting, or do you think we should prioritise the planet we are on right now? I would love to know.

[00:18:27] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:38] As a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, including part two of this mini series, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:18:55] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:19:08] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com. You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:19] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Alastair Budge: [00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today is Part 3 of our 3-part series on The Space Race.

[00:00:28] In Part One, we talked about how it started, and how the Soviets scored some early victories, putting the first satellite into space, the first animal into space, and then the first human into space.

[00:00:41] In Part Two, which was one of our member-only episodes, we talked about the second half of The Space Race, the race to put a man on the moon. 

[00:00:51] And you don’t have to have listened to that episode to know that the Americans won that particular battle.

[00:00:58] And in today’s episode, Part Three, we are going to talk about what has been called The New Space Race. 

[00:01:05] In this episode we’ll cover what has happened since the end of the first Space Race, ask ourselves why people have started talking about a “new” Space Race, what is actually happening, why, and what might the future hold for space exploration.

[00:01:22] Before we get right into today’s episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:37] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, such as Part Two of this mini series, as well as almost another 100 extra ones.

[00:01:49] Plus you’ll get access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:57] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:02:08] So, if that is of interest - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:02:18] OK, let’s get started, and talk about The New Space Race.

[00:02:23] Let’s briefly remind ourselves where we left off in Part Two. 

[00:02:28] On July 20th, 1969, the United States of America became the first country to put a man on the moon, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo Lunar Module and uttered the famous words “this is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

[00:02:48] Putting a man on the moon had been the big prize, and the Americans had scooped it, they had won.

[00:02:55] After that, enthusiasm for space exploration in America dwindled, it reduced significantly. Part of this was because the US government greatly lowered the budget for NASA, it reduced the amount of money it set aside for space exploration. 

[00:03:14] Part of it was because there wasn’t another attainable big next step. 

[00:03:20] Putting a man on Mars was too complicated, and Venus was impossible. 

[00:03:26] The moon had been the big one, and the Americans had already done it.

[00:03:31] It was also incredibly expensive. The cost of the Apollo programme, which was the initiative to send an American to the moon, is estimated to be around $200 billion dollars in today’s money.

[00:03:45] Space wasn’t cheap.

[00:03:47] And on the other side of the Atlantic, or of the Pacific I guess, the USSR was starting to fall apart. 

[00:03:55] It had lost the Space Race at the final hurdle, and although it did continue its space programme, it was vastly reduced compared to the 1950s and 1960s. 

[00:04:06] The enthusiasm for big, ambitious space missions was not what it was, and no decade has been as dominated by space exploration as the 1960s was.

[00:04:19] Indeed, there are only 12 people who have ever been to the moon, and two of them, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first two people to do it.

[00:04:30] So, what has changed? Has anything changed?

[00:04:34] Well, yes. A quick Google will reveal hundreds of thousands of results for “The New Space Race”, with videos and articles proclaiming that we are either in the middle, or about to start, a similar Space Race again, but this time with more players, and much higher stakes.

[00:04:55] Indeed, it isn’t just sensationalist headlines, here’s the former Vice President of the US, Mike Pence.

[00:05:02] Mike Pence: [00:05:02] And make no mistake about it. We are in a space race today. Just as we were in the 1960s. And the stakes are even higher.

[00:05:11] Alastair Budge: [00:05:11] So, what is actually happening?

[00:05:14] There is certainly much more interest in space exploration than there was 30 years ago, there is more investment in space exploration technology, there are more companies working on it, and there is more activity in space now than there ever was during the first Space Race.

[00:05:32] For starters, there are more countries that have taken an interest in space exploration.

[00:05:38] The USA and Russia are still two dominant players in space exploration, but they have been joined by China. 

[00:05:46] To date, up until now, only these three countries are capable of sending people to space.

[00:05:53] But, the number of countries that are able to send rockets into space, and therefore send objects such as satellites or probes to other planets, has dramatically increased, and there are currently 11 - alongside the US, Russia and China, we have France, Japan, the UK, India, Israel, Ukraine, Iran and North Korea.

[00:06:17] What the past 20 years has seen though, which has been a major difference between the first space race and now, is the emergence of private space companies, companies that are building their own space exploration technology. 

[00:06:32] Why this is important is that it no longer means that a country has to either build its own rocket technology or pay another country to allow it to take its astronauts, or other spacecraft, to space.

[00:06:45] Private companies, which have the objective of making a profit, will be happy to take these people, satellites, or anything else to space, for the right price, of course.

[00:06:56] You have probably heard of some of these companies, but the dominant three are SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, who is also the boss of Tesla and was a founder of Paypal.

[00:07:08] Then there is Virgin Galactic, which is backed by Richard Branson, another billionaire and the founder of the Virgin group of companies. Technically Virgin Galactic is focussing on sending spacecraft to the edge of space, but it is still a dominant player. 

[00:07:26] And the final one is Blue Origin, the space exploration company founded and financed by Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon.

[00:07:36] You can see the theme here - you have to have a lot of money to start a space exploration company...

[00:07:43] Although space exploration is still not cheap, the arrival of these private companies has increased competition, meaning that the cost of getting to space is lower than ever before.

[00:07:56] Indeed, for the 30 years between 1970 and 2000 the cost per kilo of sending an object to space remained pretty constant, at around 18,500 dollars per dollars per kilo. The American NASA space shuttles were even more expensive, at 54,500 dollars per kilo.

[00:08:19] Now, SpaceX has reduced that cost to under $3,000 per kilogram. Still not cheap, but it’s 20 times cheaper than the space shuttle. It has done this mainly by developing reusable rocket technology. 

[00:08:36] You may have seen clips of the Falcon rocket, the SpaceX rocket, returning to Earth, where it can be refurbished, and then reused, which of course results in a large cost saving.

[00:08:49] These companies don’t exist for the public good, of course. They exist to make money.

[00:08:54] As we’ve heard, Space exploration has historically been very expensive, and it was a notoriously difficult industry for companies to make money in.

[00:09:05] But, the prize is so large, and investors think there is so much money to be made, that billions of dollars are flooding into the sector.

[00:09:15] The space industry is worth just under 500 billion dollars at the moment, and is predicted to triple to 1.4 trillion by the end of the decade, and to continue to rise after that.

[00:09:29] Why? 

[00:09:30] Well, partly, given that it has become cheaper and cheaper to get to space, more countries are doing it.

[00:09:38] Faced also with a finite amount of natural resources on Earth, there are those who believe that the solution to this is to take natural resources from outer space, and bring them back down to Earth. 

[00:09:51] This is called space mining.

[00:09:54] There is the belief that a single football-pitch size asteroid is going to contain as much as $50 billion worth of platinum.

[00:10:04] Of course, actually getting the platinum out of the asteroid and back to Earth is another question, but there is a growing belief that space does contain vast amounts of minerals that we need back on Earth.

[00:10:18] The money to be made in space isn’t only going to come from what is found in space, though, but rather what putting objects in space enables us to do.

[00:10:28] Specifically, satellites, and what they allow both us as individuals, and nation states, to achieve.

[00:10:36] On an individual level, we are all great beneficiaries of a large satellite network.

[00:10:42] GPS, the Global Positioning System, which is made possible by only 24 satellites, means that you or I can turn on our phone and see where we are.

[00:10:54] When it comes to mobile phone reception, unless you have a satellite phone, you don’t currently get mobile phone signal from space. If you live in a relatively urban area, this isn’t a problem. 

[00:11:06] But there are more than 2 billion people worldwide who don’t have mobile phone coverage. 

[00:11:13] There is evidently a huge amount of money to be made in connecting this unconnected population, and doing this from satellites in space is one particular popular option.

[00:11:26] And when it comes to countries, and national security, having a satellite network in space comes in pretty handy

[00:11:34] While there are plenty of concerns about the right to privacy, being able to watch over your citizens from above is an attractive idea from a security perspective, especially for countries that aren’t so concerned about the privacy of their citizens.

[00:11:51] And the result of this is that there are more satellites than ever before, around 6,000 circling the Earth, of which only about 40% actually work.

[00:12:02] The rest? Well, they are either broken or are no longer in use.

[00:12:08] Bringing them down to Earth is expensive, and so they are just left up there.

[00:12:14] And while space is, to state the obvious, absolutely massive, there is a growing concern about the amount of rubbish that is up there, so called “space junk”.

[00:12:26] Because of the high cost and difficulty of bringing things back down to Earth, whether it is a broken satellite, a misplaced screwdriver, or a fuel tank, there is a lot of stuff in space that has just been left there by humans.

[00:12:43] NASA currently tracks these.

[00:12:45] According to its website, there are approximately 23,000 pieces of debris larger than 30cm, half a million pieces larger than 1 centimetre in diameter, and approximately 100 million pieces larger than 1 centimetre in diameter. 

[00:13:03] That’s a lot of space junk.

[00:13:05] And it isn’t just floating around harmlessly, given the gravitational pull of the Earth, it is traveling incredibly fast, it’s travelling at around 25,000 kilometres an hour.

[00:13:19] This means that even a very small object could do great damage to a spaceship or satellite. These objects are made to be light, so that they are easier to launch into space, they aren’t built to withstand collisions with other objects at 25,000 kilometres per hour.

[00:13:39] So it is certainly a growing concern, with no easy immediate solution.

[00:13:45] Another element of space exploration that is also in need of a solution is the laws that apply to space.

[00:13:53] In 1967, 10 years after the first satellite was launched, the Outer Space Treaty was signed, which sets out the principles of what you can and cannot do in space.

[00:14:05] It includes things like there should be no nuclear weapons in space, that the Moon should be used for peaceful purposes, and that space should be free for exploration by all states.

[00:14:17] But there are those who argue that it is now out of date, and fails to reflect the true nature of what mankind’s ambitions for space really are. 

[00:14:29] For example, how would space mining work? Who would “own” a settlement on the Moon, or Mars?

[00:14:37] There is a treaty relating to what you can and cannot do on the moon, called The Moon Treaty. It specifies things like natural resources found on the moon should be shared by all of humanity, and you cannot own the Moon. 

[00:14:52] But importantly it hasn’t been signed by any countries that can actually go to the Moon, and most importantly it hasn’t been signed by the three dominant players in space exploration - the US, Russia and China - so it’s not really worth the paper it’s written on.

[00:15:11] So, when it comes to the laws of space, there is still a lot to figure out. 

[00:15:17] But it is a very exciting time, and if this next phase of space exploration is anything like the first Space Race, then it will result in huge technological breakthroughs for us, back on Earth.

[00:15:31] Indeed, while one might look at space exploration and think “well, that doesn’t apply to me, as I’m not too keen on living on Mars”, the exciting thing about space exploration is how it might make our lives, back on Earth, better.

[00:15:46] Many of the technologies that came from the original Space Race were completely unexpected, from baby milk formula to memory foam for beds, and there will no doubt be discoveries that vastly improve our quality of life in this new space race.

[00:16:04] And one of the reasons that so many commentators are so much more optimistic about this “space race” than the previous one is that it is highly collaborative

[00:16:14] Yes, there are still some regional rivalries, and it is of course a matter of great pride for a country to “own” a space discovery, or to be the first country to do something in space, but this new era of space exploration is the polar opposite of The Space Race of the 1950s and 60s.

[00:16:36] While the USSR and the US were fierce enemies, hiding their technological developments from one another and operating like space exploration was a zero sum game, the modern era is dominated by collaboration.

[00:16:52] After the NASA space shuttle programme ended in 2011, American astronauts were actually taken to space by Russian spaceships. This stopped in 2020, after SpaceX won the contract, but was a sign of how collaborative these two ex-enemies now were.

[00:17:11] In March of 2021 Russia and China signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a Lunar Research Centre, a research centre on the moon, and they offered equal access to any nation that wants to participate.

[00:17:27] Now that it is no longer a public competition, and there is the spirit that space exploration is a benefit for mankind, and not the citizens of one particular country, the modern space era is dominated by collaboration, not competition.

[00:17:44] While one can only hazard a guess about what might come next, it is hard to deny that it is very, very exciting.

[00:17:54] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The New Space Race, and with that comes the end of this mini-series on The Space Race. I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned something new, and that it gave you a renewed interest in what we can all see when we look up.

[00:18:11] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. What are you most excited about for the future of space exploration? 

[00:18:20] Do you even think it’s exciting, or do you think we should prioritise the planet we are on right now? I would love to know.

[00:18:27] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:18:38] As a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, including part two of this mini series, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go for that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:18:55] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:19:08] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com. You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:19] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]