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

6. Planetary Resources, a space-mining company lead by two aerospace engineers and billionaire investors, plans to create a fuel depot in space by using water from asteroids, splitting it into liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for rocket fuel. They have already launched two test satellites to orbit.

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Our ever-increasing demands are rapidly depleting the resources available on Earth. The futuristic and ambitious solution to this problem is asteroid mining. Scientists are planning to look into space for resources that are becoming scarce on Earth. Near-Earth objects, such as asteroids and numerous minor planets, are a huge source of raw materials such as hard rock minerals, precious metals, iron group metals, and many others. One of the most important resources that will be available through asteroid mining is water. Water locked in the clay deposit of asteroids can be used as a propellant for spacecraft. The hydrogen and oxygen created from this water can be used to refuel spacecraft and probes in space, enabling them to function a lot longer than they do now.

An American company, Planetary Resources, Inc., has already taken its first step towards asteroid mining. It aims to develop a robotic, asteroid-mining industry. To survey and analyze the best potential targets, the company launched its potential space-mining satellite atop an Indian PSLV in January 2018. Before that, they had sent a nanosatellite named the Arkyd 3 in 2015. According to the company CEO Chris Lewicki, the satellite is now capturing images of water and thermal energy. As their next step, Planetary Resources is planning to launch multiple spacecraft to different asteroids in the future. (1, 2, 3)

7. ‘Super-banana,’ a genetically modified fruit from Australia that contains increased levels of vitamin A, could help prevent thousands of Ugandan children from having an impaired immune system and going blind from Vitamin A deficiencies. It will be commercially available in Uganda by 2020.

Super Banana
Image credits: QUT/Metro, USAID in Africa/Flickr

According to the World Health Organization, about 250 million preschool children are suffering from vitamin A deficiency. Every year, an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind and almost 50% of them die within a year of losing their sight. These cases are most prevalent in Africa and Southeast Asia. Science has a remedy for this deficiency: “super” bananas. Super bananas are genetically engineered bananas that are fortified with alpha- and beta-carotene. When consumed, our body converts them to vitamin A.

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Super bananas have been created by scientists from the Queensland University of Technology. Visually their flesh is more orange-colored than white. After being sent for trial to the United States; scientists aim to have them commercially growing in Uganda by 2020. This humanitarian project has been backed by about $10 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (1, 2, 3)

8. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), are developing an implantable artificial kidney that can closely replicate the functions of real kidneys. The government had granted $6 million to the project. If successful, it will replace dialysis in a few Years.

Artificial Kidney
Image credits: University of California/Youtube

As more and more people suffer from kidney problems, the kidney-transplant waiting-list throughout the world keeps on growing each year. While waiting for a donor organ to become available, patients go through dialysis. The average life expectancy of a dialysis patient is five to 10 years, although some have lived for decades. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) are working on an alternative to dialysis. They are creating a bioartificial kidney which will be implanted in the patients. As opposed to dialysis in which patient suffer restricted mobility, artificial kidneys would let the patient move and work without any restriction.

The implantable artificial kidney will be a coffee-cup-sized device. At present, dialysis comes with many problems such as dietary restrictions and regular dialysis sessions. So, the continuous removal of wastes by these artificial kidneys will be a welcome change in the life of these patients. In 2015, the device was tested on seven dialysis patients at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. The result was quite positive. Researchers are still working on the device to improve it further. Once it is perfected, this device will drastically change the lives of kidney patients throughout the world. (1, 2, 3)

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9. NASA’s project “Artemis,” named after Apollo’s twin sister, will land the first women on the moon by 2024.

Artemis
An artist’s concept of a crewed lunar lander for NASA’s Artemis program. Image credits: NASA

In 1969, NASA sent the first person to the Moon on Apollo 11. The namesake of this program was the Greek god Apollo. According to Greek mythology, Apollo had a twin sister named Artemis. NASA believes that in the future, she is going to lead humans back to the Moon. Well, not the mythological Artemis but rather the project named after her. NASA unveiled its Artemis Program in May 2019. Its aim is to put astronauts on the lunar surface in the year 2024. The “cherry on top” is that it will carry the first female to ever walk on the Moon.

Soon after its announcement, NASA laid out the milestones for the project. In 2020, NASA will conduct the maiden flight of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. It will blast an Orion capsule to the moon and back. The next milestone will be in 2022 when they will run a test with four astronauts aboard, and a small space station will be constructed in orbit around the Moon. In 2024, NASA will dock a lunar lander there. In the same year, four astronauts (one of them will be a female astronaut) will fly to the station in an Orion capsule, then board the lander and descend to the lunar surface. (1, 2)

10. A startup named Zero Mass Water is producing solar panels that pull clean drinking water out of the air, and they might be a solution to the global water crisis. The startup, which is backed by a $1 billion fund led by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, recently created a new sensor that allows you to monitor the quality of your water.

The United Nations estimates that about 2.1 billion people do not receive safe drinking water in their homes. This situation leads to severe health implications ultimately limiting the economic prosperity of the region/country. According to the World Vision Organisation, access to clean water increases the chances of escaping poverty, pursuing education, and fending off disease. To make clean drinking water available to everyone, a startup, Zero Mass Water, is making solar panels that can pull clean drinking water from the air.

The importance of this project can be understood by the fact that Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and other investors have funded $1 billion to help finance this project. This project uses panel arrays called “Source” which harvest water from air vapor using sunlight. The harvested vapor is sterilized and then turned into liquid. The water is stored in a reservoir that is connected directly to the home faucet. Each day, Source can deliver an equivalent of two to five liters of water.

Source panels can last for around 20 years, so, in the long run, they are cheaper than bottled water. Since launching their product, Zero Mass Water has installed its panels, Source, in 18 different countries. In 2019, they unveiled a new product, a sensor that monitors the quality and safety of drinking water. Now, the startup is planning to install their panels all over the world, especially in poverty-stricken areas where people do not have any immediate access to clean water. The best part of this project is that the Source panel can provide water anywhere in the world from the driest deserts to the wettest jungles. (source)

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