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10 “Next Big Things” that Will Make You Excited About the Future

Next-Big-Things

If we turn the pages of history, we will find a number of first-time achievements. Whether it was the first automobile or the first airplane, most faced a lot of negativity and criticism before the project became a success. But with the jet-set pace in which our technology is advancing, we now know that anything is possible. Everything that earlier looked like fantasy is now welcomed with cheers, applause, and excitement. So, here is a list of the 10 “next big things” that will make you excited about the future.

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1. A wave of satellites set to orbit the Earth in the future will be able to pinpoint producers of greenhouse gases right down to an individual leak at an oil rig. They are looking to track nations, industries, companies, and even individual facilities.

Geocarb mission
Artist’s illustration of a concept for NASA’s GeoCarb mission, which will map concentrations of key carbon gases above the Americas from geostationary orbit. Image credits: NASA/Lockheed Martin/University of Oklahoma

Global warming is a huge aspect of climate change, and it is affecting our present and future in ways no one can ignore. Greenhouse gases are the main cause of global warming. It is estimated that about a quarter of today’s global warming is due to human-made, methane emission. Government of several countries and numerous companies have decided to prevent any further damage from happening. The first step in this direction is to pinpoint the producers of greenhouse gases. This can be done by launching satellites that can detect and evaluate the sources.

NASA satellites are already monitoring the carbon dioxide and methane levels. So is the GOSAT (Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite) of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency and Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite of the European Space Agency. The Environmental Defense Fund is planning to launch its compact satellite MethaneSAT in 2021. It will pinpoint the sources of methane emissions and evaluate their impact. The firm Bluefield Technologies is creating a fleet of tiny, cutting-edge satellites that can detect methane leaks. These satellites would be used by gas companies to monitor their methane emission.

In 2015, the western US state of California became the site of the largest natural gas leak in US history. In order to prevent and control such incidents in the future, California is partnering with Planet Labs Inc. on a satellite. This satellite will “pinpoint individual methane plumes” from oil and gas facilities along with dairies, landfills, and waste-water plants. NASA is launching satellite GeoCarb (Geostationary Carbon Observatory) in the early 2020s to add to the data gathered on Earth’s emission. With multiple sources, the data gathered is expected to be helpful in making policies and bring changes in the future to curb greenhouse emission throughout the world. (1,2,3)

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2. A $3 billion Hoover Dam project hopes to bring the power plant into the 21st century by turning the dam into a giant energy storage system, similar to the job a battery performs.

Hoover Dam
Image credits: CBS This Morning/Youtube

Built during the Great Depression, Hoover Dam is one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. Located near Boulder City, Nevada, the dam provides power to three states and water to more than 20 million people. Now that we have stepped into the 21st century, Hoover Dam is going to have a major makeover. The makeover comes in the form of the Hoover Dam Proposal. The aim of this project is to turn the dam into a storage system so that when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, Hoover Dam can act as the battery from which electricity would be derived.

The $3-billion-dollar project is based on a simple plan. At present, Hoover Dam’s water load functions at about 20% of its full capacity. According to the plan when there is a high production of electricity, water would be pumped uphill. Then during peak demand or when there is a crisis of electricity, the water would be run downhill to produce electricity.

To implement this plan, a pumping station would be built 20 miles south of the dam. It would pump water from downstream back up to Lake Mead. Lake Mead is the artificial lake that feeds Hoover Dam. Water stored in the lake would be released into the dam whenever needed, turning the dam into a battery. The target for completion of this project is 2028.(1, 2, 3)

3. In 2021 when NASA’s Mars 2020 rover lands on the red planet, it will be able to send an actual video of the Mars-landing back to Earth for the first time in history. Also, the rover will carry microchips etched with the names of millions of people.

Mars Rover 2020
Mars 2020. Image credits: NASA

Landing a rover on Mars is a tricky business for rocket scientists. Only 40% of the landings on Mars has been carried out successfully. In 2021, Curiosity snapped hundreds of photos with its Mars Descent Imager, or “MARDI,” camera while it was descending through the Martian atmosphere. The rover team released a one-minute video after combining 297 of the shots. Curiosity’s most famous video is “Seven Minutes of Terror.” The video showing the entry, descent, and landing of Curiosity was actually created using computer-generated animations.

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But to this date, no rover has captured or sent back an astronaut view of its Mars landing. NASA is planning to achieve it through the Mars 2020 rover. Mars 2020 is fitted with 23 cameras and several microphones. Seven of these cameras are entry-descent and landing cameras that will capture the landing from various angles. On 18 February 2021, the Mars 2020 rover will touch down in Jezero Crater on Mars. If all goes well, then we will receive a full-color video of Mars 2020 throughout its descent to the Martian surface. For the first time in the history of Mars landings, Mars 2020 will show us the parachute opening in the Martian atmosphere, the rover being lowered down to the surface of Mars, sand and rock blown into the atmosphere by the retro-rockets, and many other exciting images and videos.

Boarding Pass
Boarding Pass-NASA Invites Public to submit their names etched on microchips to be affixed to the rover. Image credits: NASA

Also, there is one more exciting news associated with Mars Rover 2020. When it lands on the red planet in 2021, it will be carrying microchips etched with the names of millions of people. At present more than seven million people have submitted their names to be etched in the chips. The last date to submit your names to NASA is 30 September 2019. (1, 2, 3)

4. NASA is opening the International Space Station to a $35,000-a-night visit. Each year, two private astronauts will be able to stay on the ISS for up to 30 days each.

International space station
Image credits: NASA

When Wright brothers invented the airplane, every person on Earth nurtured the dream to fly at least once in their life. As technology improved, commercial airplanes made this dream come true for millions of people. So, what is the next secret dream we began nurturing after airplanes? The answer is space travel. To make your dream come true, NASA is opening the International Space Station for private astronaut missions.

ISS visit
Image credits: NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson

Through this mission, NASA will enable “…private astronauts to conduct approved commercial and marketing activities on the space station.” Each year, two private astronauts will be allowed to stay on the space station for up to 30 days each. The person visiting ISS would have to get there via a commercial US spacecraft such as the upcoming vehicles of SpaceX or Boeing. The trip won’t be free. To stay in the ISS, they have to pay a base charge of $35,000 per day which will cover NASA’s life support, communications, and other expenses such as $50-per-gigabyte of data. The first private astronaut mission is expected to begin in 2020. (1, 2)

5. More than 20 African countries have joined together in an international mission to plant a massive wall of trees running across the continent. The tree-planting project, dubbed “The Great Green Wall” of Africa, stretches across roughly 6,000 miles (8,000 kilometers).

Great green wall
Great Green Wall-Map of northern Africa. Image credits: John Kappler/National Geographic

At the southern edge of the Sahara desert, there exists a region known as the Sahel. Back in the 1970s, it was lush and green with trees, plants, and foliage. But climate change, population growth, and unsustainable land management degraded the swath of land and made the area barren. Facing persistent drought, the region is one of the poorest places on the planet. In order to rectify the mistake and bring the former glory of the region back, 11 African countries undertook a huge step. They joined together to create an international mission: “The Great Green Wall” of Africa.

The Great Green Wall Project was launched in 2007. Since then, nine additional countries have joined in this venture. The aim of this project is to plant a massive wall of trees running across the continent. The trees being planted are the drought-resistant acacia trees. Currently, about 15% of the project is complete, and over 12 million acres of degraded land has been restored. Once the wall is completed, it will be the largest living structure on the planet. It will be three times the size of the Great Barrier Reef! (1, 2)

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