Library Index » Science Encyclopedia » Part 1 Space Organizations: NASA - A New Agency Is Born, Peaceful Versus Military Purposes, Nasa Shoots For The Moon, Space Science Suffers

Part 1 Space Organizations: NASA - Nasa's Goals For The Future

exploration human systems cev

NASA's stated overall goal for the future is to improve life on Earth, while extending human life to outer space and searching for other life in the universe. NASA believes that this goal will be achieved through three broad missions:

  • Understanding and protecting Earth
  • Exploring the universe and searching for life
  • Inspiring young people to appreciate the importance of space exploration

In February 2004 NASA's goals for the twenty-first century were redefined in A Renewed Spirit of Discovery: The President's Vision for U.S. Space Exploration. In this document President George W. Bush articulated his goals for the nation's space program over the next few decades:

  • Implementing an affordable space exploration program that includes robotic spacecraft and human explorers
  • Putting astronauts on the Moon by the year 2020
  • Developing new technologies and equipment needed to acquire data about potential destinations for human astronauts
  • Promoting international and commercial participation in the exploration program

The president called for the space shuttle fleet to be retired by 2010. NASA's participation in the ISS would end in 2016 with the completion of specific research objectives at the station.

NASA's plan for achieving the president's mandate includes such ongoing missions as Mars Rover, which will be used as stepping-stones to future exploration missions. NASA plans to use other robotic spacecraft to test new technologies and gather data about the Moon and Mars before sending humans to explore them.

Human travel to the Moon and Mars will require development of new launch and crew vehicles. NASA no longer has any of the Saturn V rockets that lifted Apollo spacecraft into space. A new heavy-lift vehicle must be developed. A new crew exploration vehicle (CEV) is also needed. A space shuttle cannot serve this purpose, because it was designed only for low Earth orbit.

Under the new Exploration Systems Mission Directorate are major subdivisions called Exploration Systems Research and Technology, Human Systems Research and Technology, and Constellation Systems. The role of each is described below:

  • Exploration Systems Research and Technology—Develop innovative technologies and capabilities with the help of contracts with NASA Centers, industry, and academic institutions. This includes development of nuclear electric power and propulsion technologies in partnership with the Department of Energy's Office of Naval Reactors. Oversee new technology transfer partnerships and the Centennial Challenges prize program in which cash prizes are awarded to non-NASA partners that develop innovative technologies.
  • Human Systems Research and Technology—Perform research and development related to the health, living and working environments, safety, and activities of crewmembers.
  • Constellation Systems—Develop the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) and related infrastructure, transportation and communications systems, instrumentation, and robotic systems.

In September 2005 NASA presented its conceptual design for the spacecraft being developed under the Constellation Systems program. (See Figure 2.7.) The new CEV will be shaped like an Apollo capsule, but much larger. It will have room for up to six astronauts. The CEV will be blasted into space atop a long cylindrical rocket using a shuttle solid rocket booster as the first stage and a shuttle main engine as the second stage. The CEV will be capable of docking with the ISS. The CEV will parachute to dry land when it returns to Earth and will be reusable, except for the heat shield, which will be replaced for each trip. In addition, a heavy-lift spacecraft will be built to be powered by two longer solid rocket boosters and five shuttle main engines. This craft will carry heavy cargo to the ISS and later put components of the Moon and Mars missions into space.

Figure 2.8 shows NASA's long-range plans for human space exploration missions. Space shuttle operations are expected to cease by FY 2011. By that time development of the CEV and CLV should be nearly completed. NASA expects the first human CEV flight to the Moon to occur between 2015 and 2020. This will be followed by establishment of a lunar outpost and preparation for a crewed mission to Mars. NASA's ability to follow through with this long-range plan is dependent on Congressional approval of projected budgets and successful implementation of the new technologies that will be required for success.

FIGURE 2.7 Planned lunar launch vehicles for heavy cargo and crew transport "Lunar Heavy Cargo and Crew Launch Vehicles," in Print Materials: Launch Vehicles, in How We'll Get Back to the Moon, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, September 22, 2005, http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/136545main_CEV_litho2_hi.pdf (accessed December 28, 2005)

FIGURE 2.8 NASA's plan for human space exploration, 2005–25 "NASA's Exploration Roadmap," in Fiscal Year Budget Estimates 2007: Agency Summary, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, February 6, 2006, http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/142543main_FY07%20Budget%20Agency%20Summary%20—%20FINAL%202-4-06.pdf (accessed February 6, 2006)

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