This is the Italian winner of ESA's XMM Essay Competition "What's new Mr. Galileo?":
SPACE ASTRONOMY FOR MAN
Let?s imagine the space as our home and astronomy as a man who moves inside this building, climbs up the stairs to reach the upper floors, inspects the rooms and goes up to the next floor. The rooms are the fields of knowledge, the stairs are the instruments and the house is our Universe. When the stairs finish, the man must build increasingly sophisticated tools to continue his exploration and understand the place he lives in.
In the past, the human eye was the only means for sky observation, then more complex instruments were invented and other scientific theories developed with the data achieved. Galileo?s telescope helped progress. Further research has shown that satellites and space probes can be launched successfully to investigate the Universe in different spectral bands, windows of our home. In addition to optical images, radio, infra-red, ultraviolet and X-rays images, as those we hope to obtain with the new XMM instrument, will facilitate our understanding of the Universe we live in. Besides, as optical students and future opticians, we have a further reason for being interested in new astronomic developments.
The satellites put into orbit are not only useful to study the characteristics of objects in space, but also to provide benefits for humanity. Telecommunications, weather forecasts, remote-controlled medicine, study of bacteria and frozen-dried food, prevention of natural disasters (such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, fires, pollution, etc.) are, in our opinion, some of the major application fields for satellite measurements, images and information.
The possibility of life on other planets, which is of great interest for us, may also be investigated with space probe missions and astronomy in general (the Mariners on Mars, the Huygens/Cassini mission to explore Titan, the Giotto mission which studied the nucleus of the Halley?s comet, and the planned Rosetta mission to study the cometary nucleus material). Will some organic molecules, something of us be there? And what about us? Will it be possible for us to live in space? The international space station and lunar base will tell us, and gather relevant information about life in absence of or low gravity.
The progress of space technology promotes human activities, too. Let?s consider the success of inventions such as transistors, printed circuits, highly resistant new alloys (carbon fibres and special alloys for ships, bicycles and sails), Gore-tex garments and titanium glass frames. The study of glass frames, in particular, and their specifications is one of the main subject matters in our school and we enjoy going to the laboratory to carry out research which we now know to be linked with space technology!
Research and development of new technology are of great importance, but we believe that the most relevant aspect of space astronomy is to offer a field for international co-operation. The study and construction of state-of-the-art equipment are carried out for us to better know the place we live in, as if we were discovering our home, and to stay there in harmony with everybody!
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