Saturday, 19 March 2011

NASA's future

During much of the 1990s, NASA was faced with shrinking annual budgets due to congressional belt-tightening. In response, NASA's ninth administrator, Daniel Goldin, pioneered the "faster, better, cheaper" approach that enabled NASA to cut costs while still delivering a wide variety of aerospace programs (Discovery Program). That method was criticized and re-evaluated following the twin losses of Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander in 1999.

It is the current space policy of the United States that NASA, "execute a sustained and affordable human and robotic program of space exploration and develop, acquire, and use civil space systems to advance fundamental scientific knowledge of our Earth system, solar system, and universe."[37] NASA's ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. Other NASA spacecraft are presently en route to Mercury, Pluto and the asteroid belt. With missions to Jupiter in planning stages, NASA's itinerary covers over half the solar system.

An improved and larger planetary rover, Mars Science Laboratory, is under construction and slated to launch in 2011, after a slight delay caused by hardware challenges, which has bumped it back from the October 2009 scheduled launch.[38] The New Horizons mission to Pluto was launched in 2006 and will fly by Pluto in 2015. The probe received a gravity assist from Jupiter in February 2007, examining some of Jupiter's inner moons and testing on-board instruments during the fly-by. On the horizon of NASA's plans is the MAVEN spacecraft as part of the Mars Scout Program to study the atmosphere of Mars.[39]
Orion contractor selected August 31, 2006, at NASA Headquarters
Vision for Space Exploration
Main article: Vision for Space Exploration

On January 14, 2004, ten days after the landing of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, US President George W. Bush announced a new plan for NASA's future, dubbed the Vision for Space Exploration.[40] According to this plan, mankind would return to the Moon by 2018, and set up outposts as a testbed and potential resource for future missions. The Space Shuttle will be retired in 2010 and Orion may replace it by 2015, capable of both docking with the International Space Station (ISS) and leaving the Earth's orbit. The future of the ISS is somewhat uncertain—construction will be completed, but beyond that is less clear. Although the plan initially met with skepticism from Congress, in late 2004 Congress agreed to provide start-up funds for the first year's worth of the new space vision.[41]

Hoping to spur innovation from the private sector, NASA established a series of Centennial Challenges, technology prizes for non-government teams, in 2004. The Challenges include tasks that will be useful for implementing the Vision for Space Exploration, such as building more efficient astronaut gloves.[42] In February 2010, NASA announced that it would be awarding $50 million in contracts to commercial spaceflight companies including Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corporation, Sierra Nevada Corporation and United Launch Alliance to design and develop viable reusable launch vehicles.[43]
Moon base

On December 4, 2006, NASA announced it was planning a permanent moon base.[44] NASA Associate Administrator Scott Horowitz said the goal was to start building the moonbase by 2020, and by 2024, have a fully functional base that would allow for crew rotations and in-situ resource utilization. Additionally, NASA plans to collaborate and partner with other nations for this project. As of February 1, 2010, however, President Obama has scrapped the possibility of a moon base through his budget as he believes that NASA should be more focused on deep space missions.[45]
Human exploration of Mars

On September 28, 2007 Michael D. Griffin, who was at the time Administrator of NASA, stated that NASA aims to put a man on Mars by 2037.[46]

Alan Stern, NASA's "hard-charging" and "reform-minded"[47] associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, resigned on March 25, 2008,[48] effective April 11, 2008, after he allegedly ordered funding cuts to the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) and Mars Odyssey that were overturned by NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin. The cuts were intended to offset cost overruns for the Mars Science Laboratory. Stern has stated that he "did not quit over MER" and that he "wasn’t the person who tried to cut MER".[49] Stern, who served for nearly a year and has been credited with making "significant changes that have helped restore the importance of science in NASA’s mission",[50][51] says he left to avoid cutting healthy programs and basic research in favor of politically sensitive projects. Griffin favored cutting "less popular parts" of the budget, including basic research, and Stern's refusal to do so led to his resignation.[52]
Recent developments
Main article: Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee
President Obama and Senator Bill Nelson arrive at Kennedy Space Center in April 2010.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) established the Augustine Commission to ensure the nation is on "a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space" on May 7, 2009.[53] In its October 22, 2009 report, the Commission proposed three basic options for exploration beyond low Earth orbit:

    * Mars First, with a Mars landing, perhaps after a brief test of equipment and procedures on the Moon.
    * Moon First, with lunar surface exploration focused on developing the capability to explore Mars.
    * A Flexible Path to inner solar system locations, such as lunar orbit, Lagrange points, near-Earth objects and the moons of Mars, followed by exploration of the lunar surface and/or Martian surface.

President Barack Obama announced changes to NASA space policy, in his April 15, 2010 space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center, from the Moon-first approach adopted previously under the Vision for Space Exploration and Constellation program to a variety of destinations resembling the flexible path approach.

The new plan calls for NASA to extend the life of the ISS by five years and use launch vehicles designed, manufactured, and operated by private aerospace companies with NASA paying for flights for government astronauts to the ISS and LEO, much like the way private space tourism company Space Adventures bought Soyuz flights from the Russian government for space tourists. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have expressed doubts about the new plan,[54] while other aerospace companies, including SpaceX, have strongly endorsed it.

NASA's selected SpaceX and Orbital Sciences for its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The first launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 occurred on December 8, 2010;[55] it was the unmanned first spaceflight of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which orbited the Earth. It was the first demonstration flight for the COTS program. On February 8 the idea for a new rocket to replace the aging space shuttle was presented in the form of the Liberty. Mostly a combination of the already existing Ariane 5 and the cancelled Ares I; it is thought that it could be finished by 2013, and ready for launch by 2015 if approved

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