Get In Loser, We're Going to Outer Space
A virus-free vacation for those who'd rather not be on Earth right now.
I don't know about anyone else, but boy am I tired of living on Earth right now. Maybe my agitation is more towards the people running Earth than the planet itself. Still, I'd like one day where I don't have to read headlines of fires burning down the amazon, rising sea levels, ignorant politicians, racism, homophobia, poverty, school shootings, animals going extinct, and now, a global pandemic. Sure - I will do my part as an Earthling to help change these horrible things, but that doesn't mean I don't need a break from it all. It's overwhelming, thank you very much.
Therefore, for my virtual dream vacation, I'd like to go somewhere more isolated. But here's the thing...why should I travel to an island or city like everyone else when I can just go up? This is a dream vacation, after all. Realism doesn't apply to this particular challenge. (Although, space tourism is a real thing. It's just very damn expensive.)
Why would I pick a cruise through outer space as my imaginary getaway? Well, there are a couple reasons...
1. Space is beautiful. There are a plethora of natural wonders we will visit throughout this article which will take your breath away. They are far more epic than anything you can imagine on Earth. Oh, and they aren't infested with picture-obsessed tourists.
2. Passports aren't necessary. All you need to visit space (besides the money) is a rocket ship, as well as enough food, water, oxygen, and courage. This can take years to acquire in real life, but for the sake of this article, we'll assume we have all five.
3. Also, there are no diseases in space. No vaccinations required! It's the farthest place from COVID-19 possible.
4. Zero gravity! Need I say more?
Are you ready? Fasten your seat belts and grab your space suit. Let's count down to launch...
And we have liftoff!
Space travel takes a lot of time. In fact, it can take anywhere from six hours to three days to reach our first destination. So like any good road trip, I fashioned a travel playlist for us to pass the time while we cruise through the solar system. Feel free to play it as you read through this article! :)
This isn't the Millenium Falcon or the Starship Enterprise, but it is a real space shuttle where humans can work and play. Launched in 1998, the International Space Station, or ISS for short, is a spacecraft where crew members conduct research in biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and more. It's owned by five space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). In 2019, NASA announced that starting this year, private tours will be going to the ISS using SpaceX and Boeing spacecrafts. The only catch is that it costs $35,000 a day per astronaut.
The space station is powered by an acre of solar panels. According to NASA's website, the ISS travels at a speed of five miles per second, and orbits earth once every 90 minutes. That's 16 times in 24 hours.
There are at least six crew members aboard the space station at a time, and they all hail from different parts of the world. Personally, I would love to ask each of them what drew them to their profession and how they trained for space's unusual conditions. The crew's spacecraft is 357 feet (about the size of a football field), so there's lots of room to float around and chill. In addition to conducting research, the crew members exercise for at least two hours a day. This prevents loss of muscle mass and bone density while in microgravity.
If you'd like to learn more about the International Space Station, here's a detailed tour given by NASA crew member, Suni Williams. She talks about astronaut food, space bathrooms, and explains how the researchers sleep in zero gravity! It almost feels like a hotel! (Only a lot more scientific.)
I would give anything to hang out in that cupola...
It's that romantic white orb above our heads every evening, and a must for any space tourist. The moon controls our ocean and earth tides, and is in synchronous rotation with the Earth. It orbits our planet every 27.3 days. Also, it stretches for 1,079 miles: a quarter of Earth's size.
The moon has a lot of history. It was thought to have formed about 4.51 billion years ago after a Mars-sized body collided with Earth. Our ancestors believed it to be the only moon in space, until Galileo discovered four new moons orbiting Jupiter in 1610. Additionally, our moon is the only natural satellite us humans have ever stepped foot on. In 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first to do it.
Perhaps the moon's greatest landmark is the American flag left by the duo during the Apollo 11 mission. It would certainly be a destination on our tour. Since markings on the moon's surface can last a million years, the astronauts' footprints would still be there, too. Can you imagine standing in the same spots those astronauts stood? I get goosebumps thinking about it. Armstrong and Aldrin being in that area changed our world forever. As Armstrong said, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
I'd also love to take a look at the Montes Appenninus: the moon's highest mountain range. It contains Mons Huygens, which is the moon's tallest mountain at 18,046 ft. (That's more than half the height of Mount Everest!) It would also be cool to check out some craters and maybe...y'know...drive around in one of those moon car-thingies.
And just think: once you're done visiting the moon, you can take some rocks back as souvenirs! Better than anything in a Disney World gift shop, that's for sure.
It's Earth's next-door neighbor, excluding Venus. While the Mars One mission aims to put man there by the 2030's, rovers have already charted most of the planet's dusty surface. Mars is comprised of plains, gullies, and volcanoes, as well as large canyons that may have been carved by rivers and streams almost four billion years ago. The planet's dirt has a rust-colored hue, hence Mars's nickname: The Red Planet. Looking at the planet's surface, you would almost think you're in the middle of the Sahara Desert. It stretches on for miles...
It may look like there's nothing to do on this rough and rocky planet, but it's quite the contrary. Mars has two landforms considered National Park worthy by human standards. Those landforms are the Olympus Mons volcano, and Valles Marineres canyon.
Olympus Mons (Latin for Mount Olympus) is a shield volcano 25 km, or 16 miles, high, and 624 km (374 miles) in diameter. While no Greek gods live atop it, it is the largest known volcano in our solar system. Olympus Mons is the same size as the state of Arizona and has a volume 100 times greater than Mauna Loa - the largest volcano on Earth. In fact, the Hawaiian Islands, where Mauna Loa is located, could fit inside Olympus Mons. Even more, here's a picture of France in comparison to the Martian volcano...
This volcano is SO BIG, it even sticks out of Mars's atmosphere. You can see it when looking at the planet from afar.
Arguably more impressive than Olympus Mons is the Valles Marineris. Stretching farther than the United States from coast to coast, it is 4000 km (2500 mi) long and reaches depths of up to 7 km (4 mi). The Grand Canyon is only about 800 km (500 mi) long and 1.6 km (1 mi) deep. So I guess you can say the Valles Marineris is the Grander Canyon. Maybe even the Grandest Canyon.
In addition to bringing a camera so you can take pictures of these beautiful Martian landforms, you might also want to bring a shovel. Mineral deposits have been found on Mars, including gypsum and hematite "blueberries." Because of the large volcanoes on Mars, it's even possible there are deposits of gold, geodes, and agate to be mined. It'll certainly come in handy when future astronauts colonize the planet. (Although, Neptune and Uranus has Mars beat when it comes to finding minerals - it literally rains diamonds on those planets.)
In addition to digging up minerals, I would also love to go looking for the remains of the Mars rover known as "Opportunity." It was sent to Mars in 2003 and was only supposed to last 90 days on the surface. Instead, it roamed the Red Planet for 15 years, taking several pictures of Martian craters throughout its lifetime.
Unfortunately, the rover "passed away" last year after it lost contact with NASA due to a dust storm. While it's a myth, the science community says the rover's last words were, "My battery is low and it's getting dark." The robot's remains would be near Mars's Perseverance Valley. If possible, I would love to travel there and give the rover a proper burial. After all its contributions to science, it definitely deserves one.
We're coming to the part of the tour where we'll need to stay inside our spacecraft from now on. This is planet Jupiter: the fifth planet from the sun, and the largest in the solar system. Because of its size and composition, it has been nicknamed "The Gas Giant," by astronomers. It has a diameter of 142,800 km (88,695 miles), making it ten times larger than Earth.
Jupiter has always been my favorite planet. I mean, aren't those colors just gorgeous? Ever since I learned about it back in elementary school, The Great Red Spot of Jupiter has piqued my interest. It's not actually a spot: it's a giant, never-ending storm comprised of 400 km (250 miles) per hour winds. No one knows why it's red or what it's even made of. Some say sulphur and phosphorus compounds, others say organic materials like carbon compounds produced by lighting. In any case, it's a mystery and I don't want to fly our spaceship into it by accident. Oh god, can you imagine the turbulence?
Anyways, if you think Jupiter is pretty, check out its four moons!
Ugh, they're so beautiful...like the colors in a makeup palette.
While Callisto might be my favorite because I love shiny things and it's said to hold an underground ocean, we'd definitely need to take a closer look at Europa. It's the youngest of Jupiter's moons. Because there is liquid water underneath its thick layers of ice, and because there's heat energy coming from the tidal flexure of Europa...it could harbor life! Yay, aquatic aliens!
That's not to say the thick layers of ice on Europa aren't cool, too. In fact, they hold elaborate patterns that make you want to stare for hours...
Those colors!!! I'm in love. Like I said before...I would pay good money for someone to create a makeup palette where all the colors are named after Jupiter's moons. I'm not kidding.
Okay, let's be real...if it weren't for Saturn's rings, we probably wouldn't care about the planet as much as we do. There's not much to say about Saturn itself other than it's composed of hydrogen and helium, like Jupiter. It's nine times wider than Earth. To quote NASA, "if Earth were the size of a nickel, Saturn would be about as big as a volleyball."
As for Saturn's iconic rings, they have a diameter of 270,000 km (170,000 miles) and are made up many dust and rock particles. These particles form rings thanks to Saturn's gravity, and the edges of its rings are defined by several shepherd moons. Because of their lunar gravity, dust and rock particles don't escape into the cold void of space while everything orbits around the planet.
I think it would be cool to fly our spaceship near Saturn, as I'd love to see the rings up close. Just like Jupiter's Great Red Spot, however, we need to be careful. The rocks and dust of Saturn's rings lie within something known as the "Roche Limit." It's the radius within which a large moon would be torn apart by Saturn's tidal forces. We fly too close, and we'll experience a lot more than turbulence...
Anyways, here's another cool fact about Saturn: one of the planet's moons, Enceladus, has geysers that spew water thousands of kilometers into space to form one of the planet's rings. It's like Yellowstone's Old Faithful, but far more extreme!
"But wait," I hear you cry, "how can our last stop be the Milky Way Galaxy when we've been inside the Milky Way Galaxy this whole time?" I'll admit, the header is confusing. We're going outside of our solar system to get a better view of the Milky Way in its entirety. Nothing man-made has been outside of the Milky Way yet, so venturing outside of the galaxy would be unpredictable and dangerous. This vacation should be stress-free, after all! Still, there's nothing quite like a beautiful view of the universe to end our tour.
Apologies to the people who thought we'd be looking at every planet. If you forgot the ones we covered already and can't remember the names of the others, Drake and Josh will jog your memory...
They didn't get to Pluto, which I'm a little salty about, but that's okay: scientists have been debating whether or not Pluto is a planet for years. Now it's been downgraded to a dwarf planet, which is kind of like saying every other planet gets a trophy while Pluto receives a medal of participation.
Anyways, back to the Milky Way...in 2012, NASA's Voyager 1 - a space probe launched to study our solar system - passed the sun's solar wind and made it into interstellar space. Scientists discovered the galaxy's magnetic field is aligned in the same direction as our sun's, making a sort of "magnetic highway." Everything moves in the same direction.
If it's evening and you're in an area with no light pollution, you can see the Milky Way from Earth. It's a spiral galaxy. We're located in one of its arms, and are 26,000 light years away from its center. Much of the Milky Way is invisible to us because we are inside its disk. But if we at least left the solar system...it's possible there would be more to see.
Imagine the bright bands of stars speckled across the blackness...
Imagine our solar system: so small, you can hold it in the palm of your hand...
Imagine the hundreds, maybe billions of solar systems floating past you. Other worlds to explore. Maybe other beings, looking up, like us...
If we traveled out of the solar system to see the Milky Way and you pressed your head against the glass of our spaceship, it may look a little something like this.
This is a panorama from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. It was created over a three year period from locations in California, South Africa, and Germany. All of our night sky has been stitched together to create this magnificent view. If you look to your bottom right, you'll see some fuzzy spots. Those are other satellite galaxies near the Milky Way.
I could stare at this for hours. Studying astronomy makes me feel very small, but it also gives me a weird sort of comfort. In the 13.51 billion years the Milky Way has existed, Earth has been around for 4.5 of them. In those 4.5 billion years, us humans have only lived on Earth for 150,000 years. There may be a lot of chaos in our corner of the universe right now, but it's only worth a small fraction of eternity. With all the fear COVID-19 brings, it's only a tiny speck in the history of forever.
Thank you for taking this virtual journey with me! :) This article was fueled by a long week of research, so any likes or tips are greatly appreciated. If you're still in a space mood, I'd like to recommend Emily Jacoby's Vocal article, The Spiders from Mars or How I'm Spending Time After Quarantine. It's a beautiful prose poem about our solar system, and it's also part of this Vocal challenge! (Thus further proving outer space is the ULTIMATE dream vacation.) I've realized how important it is to support other creators during this time. Therefore, with every new article I submit to a challenge, I will be recommending another Vocal article! Us Vocal+ members are in these challenges together, so let's share the love!
Since there's no comment section on Vocal articles, please contact me through my Insta, @katyisaladybug, if you have any thoughts you'd like to share. Until next time, happy trails. <3
"10 Places to Visit in the Solar System" - Encyclopedia Brittanica
"Earth's Moon - Overview" - Nasa.gov
"Olympus Mons" - Nasa.gov
"Valles Marineres" - Nasa.gov
"Saturn: In Depth" - Nasa.gov
"Voyager 1 Leaves Solar System, NASA Confirms" - National Geographic
"The Milky Way From Earth" - Universe Today