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Leaving the Earth: NASA’s Newfound Exoplanets and Building Cities in Orbit

Space-HotelsWith the new film Interstellar making its debut in November, the idea of human kind leaving Earth to colonize deep space is explored in great detail. And even though this film is a work of fiction, it might not be as far-fetched as you think!

NASA has made a huge discovery of 719 exoplanets—or planets outside of our solar system—all of which have the potential to support human life. One of these planets even has clear skies and water vapor, according to Within the next 100 years, we could very much be on our way to exploring these exoplanets—maybe even planning a manned mission to one of them!

These discoveries are all thanks to NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which was launched in 2009. “We studied just over 1,200 [star] systems, and from there we were able to validate 719 planets,” says Jason Rowe of NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., who led the research. As he says to Huffington Post, “this is the biggest haul ever.” Since Kepler has been operating, NASA has studied 3,500 potential planets in deep space and this new batch of true planets brings the tally up to more than 1,000.

The major candidate for exploration is HAT-P-11b in the constellation Cygnus, according to NASA. Three different telescopes have observed this Neptune-sized exoplanet, and it appears to have clear skies and water vapor in its atmosphere. “This discovery is a significant milepost,” says John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.”

Unfortunately, these exoplanets are still far beyond mankind’s reach—for now. Perhaps in the next century or two, mankind will be able to send either a rover or a manned mission to one of these planets. But until then, another NASA contractor and space settlement expert, Dr. Al Globus, has an idea that’s a little more close to home.

According to, Dr. Globus wants to colonize Earth’s orbit with giant space platforms in order to build settlements on them. His vision is that we could soon have huge habitats floating around our home planet by the end of the century. Everything from tourism to farming, even sporting events would take place on this colony, but with plenty of ways to get back home to Earth in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

This interest in Space Settlements has led Dr. Globus to set up the annual Space Settlement Contest at NASA, which challenges students to come up with their own designs for space colonies. And even if the timeline and budget for such a project is still up in the air at this point, Dr. Globus still believes that such a scientific accomplishment is possible.

“Whether [space settlements] will happen or not is really hard to say. Whether it can happen: absolutely,” says Globus. “If we as a people decide to do it, we can do it. We have the scientific capability, financial capability, there is simply no question we can do it.” Barring any unforeseen catastrophes, Dr. Globus proudly explains that, “Our technological know-how is only going to increase [and] we could have the first space settlement in decades, certainly less than a century.”

We certainly share Dr. Globus’ enthusiasm for thinking way outside the box and reaching (literally!) for the stars. The discovery of new worlds out there, and new technologies to help us get there, are always very exciting accomplishments. Congratulations to NASA on their incredible year and may they continue to motivate us to push even further into the final frontier!


photo credit: Jared McMillen/Aurora photos/Corbis via



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