This is the English winner of ESA's XMM Essay Competition "What's new Mr. Galileo?":

The Future of Space travel and its Effects on Humanity

Since the dawn of mankind we have continually conquered the frontiers that face us. The time has now come to move on, so we have begun turning our earliest dreams into reality, the dream that has always fascinated humanity: space exploration.

Since civilisation began, we have been intrigued by the heavens and have wondered about the universe and its origin. Therefore we have always studied science at one of its most ancient and mysterious levels: astronomy. We study the stars to seek answers to the never-ending questions that arise.

Astronomical sceptics may ask, "What is the point of studying the stars? They do not relate to our lives in any way." The answer is the same as the reason for studying everything else; it is for the sake of gaining knowledge. It is obvious that humanity thrives on knowledge, achieving it is one of our driving forces.

The Earth is the ideal place to live. Its continents and islands, its oceans, lakes and rivers, support an amazing abundance and variety of life - several billion plant and animal species, as well as Man himself, all living in perfect harmony with one another.

We have however, advanced and progressed beyond the restrictions of our planet and realise that nothing is eternal. We are now aware that the Earth shall some day become depleted of resources and realise that inevitably we will have to conduct in-depth research into terraforming planets and gaining information about new fuels and materials to ensure our future survival.

One of the reasons that human beings study interstellar space is perhaps to answer one of the most frequently asked questions: "Are we alone?" For decades humans have been sending electronic signals into space searching for other forms of intelligent life. We have always wondered whether there are other life forms similar to ours, and if there are, how could they affect us? No doubt this would have great impact on our views and personal beliefs as well as the general function of our societies.

Studying other planets enables us to perhaps speculate the future of our world and give us ideas about how to best protect our planet and make our future a brighter one. We can change the way future generations live by discovering new technology and communication facilities, helping us to learn more about Earth and life around us.

By taking one glimpse of the sky at night we are able to identify images we thought we would never see, many stars which appear to be small and vulnerable, trapped in the never-ending velvety blackness, yet still managing to glow and reveal their existence. These jewel-like heavenly bodies are actually emitting light, which has taken vast amounts of time to reach us, revealing the past.

We become united as one nation in our search through the Universe, and so throughout the process learn more about ourselves and our ability to work together, despite our cultural differences, in one unified mission.

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