Expensive tourism, Mars expeditions, even alien encounters could define space in 2051 — and the Earthly burdens of race could also follow humans to orbit and beyond.
The big picture: Black science fiction writers and artists known as Afrofuturists say the next 30 years of space exploration could address legacies of racial terror on Earth if people of color join ventures and help reimagine human life among the planets.
A growing constellation of satellites that can peer deep beneath the Earth's surface, track global sea level rise in unprecedented detail, and trace pollutants in the air will bolster climate science in the coming decades.
Why it matters: The next few decades are critical for determining the pace and severity of climate change, and efforts to deploy new technologies to cut emissions to net negative numbers will require new planetary monitoring capabilities.
Space is set to become more congested over the next decades as more countries and companies are able to access it and economies become more reliant on space-based technologies.
Why it matters: Though space is seemingly infinite, Earth's orbital capacity is not, and this surge in traffic around the planet may catalyze new competitions — and collaborations — between nations.
The past 50 years in space have been defined by governments, but the future belongs to private companies.
Why it matters: The space industry is growing, and what was once the purview of nations is increasingly being taken over by companies looking to profit from their work in space. That new dynamic will shape the coming decades in orbit and beyond.
New probes to study nearby worlds, advanced telescopes to peer at far away planets, and expanding ideas about the signs of life are fueling a renaissance in the search for life beyond Earth.
Why it matters: It's an age-old question — is life as we know it on Earth unique, or is the universe actually teeming with life?
A drastic reduction in launch costs is helping fuel a vision of space not just as a realm of exploration or science, but real industry.
The big picture: Over the short term, space will likely become a place to manufacture high-precision, high-value products that benefit from a microgravity environment. But in the future, as Jeff Bezos noted in July after returning from his space trip, there could be a push to move heavy, polluting industries to operate in space.
Welcome to our Axios AM Deep Dive looking at the future of space from the rise of private company exploration to the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life, led by Axios Space reporter Miriam Kramer (subscribe for her weekly newsletter) and managing editor Alison Snyder.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday it is investigating Virgin Galactic's recent flight into suborbital space after the company's Unity space plane veered off course and flew outside its designated airspace during the flight.
The latest: FAA spokesperson Steve Kulm said Virgin Galactic's space plane is grounded and will not be able to fly again until the administration "approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety."
Private missions to orbit like the all-civilian Inspiration4 launching later this month are opening access to space to people who historically haven't gone there.
Why it matters: Fewer than 600 people have flown to space, and most of them have been white men. But with the rise of commercial spaceflight that's expected to change.
NASA's Perseverance rover is getting ready to make its second attempt to collect a rock sample on Mars.
Why it matters: One of the rover's main goals is to collect samples of interesting looking rocks — that may harbor signs of past life — on the Red Planet and store them for a future mission to collect and return to Earth.