Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Moon, Mars, and Beyond ...Would you go?

Would you be willing to travel to the moon or Mars to live there permanently? Well, somebody’s going to have to do it, if the human race wants to avoid extinction. 
That’s all well and good, but would you really want to live on the moon or Mars for the rest of your life? I guess I’d welcome the opportunity to take a ride up into outer space on a spacecraft, or even a short visit to the moon, but personally I’m not too keen on leaving our beautiful Blue Planet forever. How about anyone else? Would you go?

Human Space Exploration

Humanity's interest in the heavens has been universal and enduring. Humans are driven to explore the unknown, discover new worlds, push the boundaries of our scientific and technical limits, and then push further. The intangible desire to explore and challenge the boundaries of what we know and where we have been has provided benefits to our society for centuries.

Human space exploration helps to address fundamental questions about our place in the Universe and the history of our solar system. Through addressing the challenges related to human space exploration we expand technology, create new industries, and help to foster a peaceful connection with other nations. Curiosity and exploration are vital to the human spirit and accepting the challenge of going deeper into space will invite the citizens of the world today and the generations of tomorrow to join NASA on this exciting journey.

A Flexible Path

This is the beginning of a new era in space exploration in which NASA has been challenged to develop systems and capabilities required to explore beyond low Earth orbit, including destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and eventually Mars.

NASA will use the International Space Station as a test-bed and stepping stone for the challenging journey ahead. By building upon what we learn there we will prepare astronauts for the challenges of long-duration flight and the permanent expansion of human exploration beyond where we have been before. Explorers may first visit near-Earth asteroids where we may get answers to the questions humans have always asked. Visiting an asteroid will provide valuable mission experience and prepare us for the next steps–possibly for the first humans to step on Mars.

Robotic exploration continues to deliver profound answers about our Universe by visiting far-off destinations, providing reconnaissance and collecting scientific data. When combining both human and robotic exploration methods we will use technology and our senses to increase our ability to observe, adapt, and uncover new knowledge.

Why the International Space Station?

The first step in embarking on a long and challenging journey involves laying solid groundwork for a successful endeavor. The International Space Station serves as a national laboratory for human health, biological, and materials research, as a technology test-bed, and as a stepping stone for going further into the solar system. On the International Space Station we will improve and learn new ways to ensure astronauts are safe, healthy and productive while exploring, and we will continue expand our knowledge about how materials and biological systems behave outside of the influence of gravity.

NASA will continue its unprecedented work with the commercial industry and expand an entire industry as private companies develop and operate safe, reliable and affordable commercial systems to transport crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station and low Earth orbit.

Why Asteroids?

Asteroids are believed to have formed early in our solar system's history–about 4.5 billion years ago–when a cloud of gas and dust called the solar nebula collapsed and formed our sun and the planets. By visiting these near Earth objects to study the material that came from the solar nebula, we can look for answers to some of humankind's most compelling questions, such as: how did the solar system form and where did the Earth's water and other organic materials such as carbon come from?

In addition to unlocking clues about our solar system, asteroids may provide clues about our Earth. By understanding more about asteroids we may learn more about past Earth impacts and possibly find ways to reduce the threat of future impacts.

Future robotic missions to asteroids will prepare humans for long-duration space travel and the eventual journey to Mars. Robotic missions will provide reconnaissance information about asteroid orbits, surface composition, and even return samples to Earth for further evaluation. These robotic missions are a critical step in preparing humans to visit asteroids where we will learn about the valuable resources available in space, and further develop ways to use them in our quest for more efficient and affordable exploration.

Why Mars?

Mars has always been a source of inspiration for explorers and scientists. Robotic missions have found evidence of water, but if life exists beyond Earth still remains a mystery. Robotic and scientific robotic missions have shown that Mars has characteristics and a history similar to Earth's, but we know that there are striking differences that we have yet to begin to understand. Humans can build upon this knowledge and look for signs of life and investigate Mars' geological evolution, resulting in research and methods that could be applied here on Earth.

A mission to our nearest planetary neighbor provides the best opportunity to demonstrate that humans can live for extended, even permanent, stays beyond low Earth orbit. The technology and space systems required to transport and sustain explorers will drive innovation and encourage creative ways to address challenges. As previous space endeavors have demonstrated, the resulting ingenuity and technologies will have long lasting benefits and applications.

The challenge of traveling to Mars and learning how to live there will encourage nations around the world to work together to achieve such an ambitious undertaking. The International Space station has shown that opportunities for collaboration will highlight our common interests and provide a global sense of community.

The Return To The Moon

NASA 1993 LUNOX concept for a lunar habitat assembled out of components delivered by automated cargo flights. Pressurized rovers, logistics modules, and a spacesuit maintenance and storage module combine to provide the living and working quarters for the crew.

NASA announced in December 2006 its intention to begin building a permanent base on the Moon by 2020. Crews and materials will be launched from Earth by Ares V rockets and travel to the Moon aboard Orion spacecraft and automated transport vehicles. 

The base would probably be set up near to one of the Moon's poles because such a location would afford moderate temperatures, a high percentage of sunlight for supplying solar power, and more opportunities for launches. There is also the possibility that some deep craters in the polar regions may harbor ice, which could be tapped as a water supply. 

It remains to be seen whether NASA's ambitious plans will be backed by the greatly increased government funding needed to make them become a reality. Many schemes for human outposts on our closest celestial neighbor have been aired over the past few decades but have failed to progress beyond the printed word.

Artist's conception of colonization on Mars

Human Moon and Mars Exploration Simulated in Mojave Desert
An international team of researchers from the Mars Institute, in partnership with the SETI Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, Carnegie Mellon University, and U.S. aerospace companies Hamilton Sundstrand and Honeybee Robotics, has successfully completed a series of field tests aimed at investigating how humans will conduct geotechnical surveys on the Moon or Mars in advance of establishing more substantial surface infrastructures.

NASA - Moon, Mars, and Beyond

Space Industry Launches New Era of Exploration
By Beth Panitz
May 2, 2012

As space shuttle Discovery soared over the skies of Washington D.C. last month, mounted atop a 747 carrier aircraft, the moment was bittersweet for many spectators. The awe-inspiring sight symbolized the end of America's 30-year space shuttle program, with Discovery being transferred to the National Air and Space Museum for display at its Udvar-Hazy Center in Northern Virginia.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden asserts that careers in space exploration will continue to flourish as a new age of discovery begins.

"Just because the shuttle has retired doesn't mean NASA is shuttered - far from it," Bolden said in April at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I believe the best is yet to come." NASA plans to concentrate on deep space exploration as it hands off responsibility for low Earth orbit flight to private industry. The first attempt by a commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station is scheduled for May 7.

With Space Shuttles Grounded, Will the Industry Takeoff Again?

With several thousand shuttle employees laid off since 2008, some have questioned the space industry's future, especially given today's economic constraints.

Industry veteran John Schindler is optimistic that the field will rebound. "Space exploration is an exciting field," says Schindler, who served on the space shuttle program for 29 years, most recently as director of Space Shuttle Orbiter Programs for Boeing Space Exploration, headquartered in Houston. "By no means mean does the retirement of the shuttle program mean that there aren't opportunities for that same excitement."

For Schindler, the end of the shuttle program meant the start of a new adventure on Boeing's commercial crew program, developing spacecraft that will travel to low Earth orbit (about 240 miles from Earth) for NASA and commercial customers.

While Boeing expected to reduce its post-shuttle workforce by 510 last summer, it laid off about half that number. Many employees like Schindler transitioned to the commercial crew program, while others are working on the International Space Station or deep space exploration. Employee training has helped workers switch gears from sustaining space shuttles to product development, says Schindler.

"There will be growth for scientists and engineers," says Schindler, citing a need for aerospace, electrical and mechanical engineers, computer scientists, physicists and chemists. Industry roles include hardware design, software development, requirements development, systems testing, mission planning and mission operations. "There's an excitement and passion about this work," says Schindler, "because you know that your piece of it will play a critical role in bringing astronauts back and forth safely."

Here are some frontiers facing tomorrow's space scientists and engineers:

Commercial Space Transportation

California-based Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, hopes to make history on May 7 by being the first commercial company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to go into space atop a Falcon 9 rocket also built by SpaceX. For this first flight, Dragon will carry only cargo and no crew. If successful, the mission is expected to pave the way toward regular commercial missions.

Orbital Sciences Corporation, based in Dulles, Va., is expected to follow later in the year with its Cygnus module launched on its Antares launch vehicle.

Schindler's team at Boeing is also developing a commercial spacecraft, the CST-100, with plans to test operations in 2015-2016. The gumdrop shaped capsule could ferry a crew of seven to the International Space Station as early as 2016. Boeing also has agreements to provide transportation for tourism company Space Adventures and for Bigelow Aerospace, which is developing inflatable space stations.

Under an agreement with NASA and Space Florida, Boeing will manufacture and assemble its CST-100 spacecraft at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bringing 550 jobs back to Kennedy. NASA reports that after post-shuttle layoffs, the Kennedy Space Center has a workforce of approximately 8,300, including 6,200 contractors and 2,100 civil servants.

Kennedy remains home to NASA's Launch Services Program, responsible for launching satellites and robotic missions. Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana recently indicated that the center is projected to be at a full operational workforce of approximately 10,000 by 2017 based on NASA's efforts to reuse the center's facilities.

Mission to Mars

"In this new era of space exploration, NASA will build the capabilities to send humans deeper into space than ever before," said Bolden at the space symposium.

Engineers are already working on the Space Launch System (SLS), a deep space rocket that will serve as a launch vehicle for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, also under development. With its superior lift capability, SLS will carry Orion into deep space, allowing for human exploration of the moon, near-Earth asteroids and Mars.

"This launch system will create good-paying American jobs, ensure continued U.S. leadership in space, and inspire millions around the world," Bolden said in September on announcing SLS details. "While I was proud to fly on the space shuttle," said the NASA administrator, who traveled on several missions in the 1980s and '90s, "tomorrow's explorers will now dream of one day walking on Mars."

NASA hopes to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and eventually to Mars in the 2030s.

Deep Space Necessities

"Deep space exploration will drive other technologies," says Schindler. As we travel deeper into space than ever before, he envisions the need for solar electric propulsion, lightweight cryogenic propellant tanks and refueling depots in orbit.

NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems program is already developing systems for advanced life support, crew mobility, extra-vehicular activity and deep space habitation. Through a university-level competition, tomorrow's engineers are helping to tackle the challenge of deep space habitation. The eXploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge invites students to design, manufacture, assemble and test systems for use on NASA's deep space habitat prototype.

Last year's winner, a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison designed an attachable inflatable habitat "loft," which NASA tested as part of simulated astronaut mission to an asteroid.

Peering into the Past

Scientists and engineers are developing a space telescope that will greatly expand our understanding of the universe's history by allowing us to peer back in time to the first luminous glows after the Big Bang.

Scheduled to be launched in 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope will extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope. With longer wavelength coverage and greatly improved sensitivity, Webb will be able look further back in time to find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, and to see inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

While Hubble is about 375 miles from Earth, Webb will be approximately 1 million miles away. Northrop Grumman is the main NASA industrial contractor, responsible for building the optical telescope and preparing the observatory for launch. Webb will serve thousands of astronomers worldwide.

The International Space Station

The International Space Station will continue to play a critical role in human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit. The station is occupied by an international crew of six, who run more than 400 scientific studies each year.

Among other things, crew members are investigating how our bodies respond to a microgravity environment in preparation for further space travel, as well as to better understand the impact of medical conditions back on Earth.

"As NASA starts using the International Space Station as a test bed for further exploration, they'll be working on projects like autonomous refueling of spacecraft, advanced life support systems and human-robotic interfaces," says Schindler. "That's all going to drive additional opportunities for scientists and engineers."

A New Role for America's Space Shuttles

After 30 years of space exploration, NASA's space shuttles are now on a new mission - to educate and inspire. You can check out the shuttles up close at their new homes:

Discovery is now on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.
Starting this summer, Enterprise will be on display at New York City's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. The shuttle was flown into New York City last week mounted atop NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
Endeavor will be transported to the California Science Center in Los Angeles in the fall.
Atlantis is being prepared for public display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center in 2013.

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