When William Shatner, as Captain James T. Kirk, gave the legendary description of his starship Enterprise’s mission to explore ‘space: the final frontier’ in Star Trek, little did anyone foresee that those words would be etched in pop culture history.
Throughout evolution, humankind has gazed up at the skies. From reverently praying to it, to sending satellites and spaceships to explore the various mysteries of the universe, exploring the final frontier has always been an endeavor of great passion and curiosity. Stoking this fire, is aluminium, the winged ‘Metal of the Future’.
Way back in the 19th century, Count Ferdinand Zeppelin used aluminium to make the frames of his iconic airships, showcasing aluminum’s light weight, strength, and high resistance to corrosion. The Wright Brothers had manufactured engine parts of their famous ‘Flyer I’ with aluminum, for their first manned flight in 1903. Over the years, as aerospace and aviation industries evolved, aluminium alloys kept consistently outperforming other metals in areas like durability, fatigue-resistance, stability, fuel-efficiency, reflectivity and more. The fact that this lightweight metal possessed the ability to bear extreme weather conditions of outer space, made aluminium an integral part of the aerospace industry.
Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite, was essentially a pressurized sphere made entirely of aluminium alloy. In 1981, when NASA started the Space Shuttle Program, aluminium alloys were used in various parts of the main body structures and windows of the orbiters. Now as the world gears up for missions like Artemis III, which aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, aluminium continues to play a critical role in helping humankind to boldly go where no one has gone before. The pressure vessel in Artemis III comprises seven machined aluminium alloy pieces that are welded together to create a strong, air-tight and habitable space for the astronauts during the mission.
The future of space exploration will take us further than we have ever been, to new lands and uncharted territories. While we can’t foretell what is to come, we can be absolutely sure of one thing. Aluminium will continue to help humankind explore the unexplored, furthering our civilization’s pursuit to reach the farthest frontiers of the universe.