"As a former astronaut and the current NASA Administrator, I'm here to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we have laid the foundation for success -- and failure is not an option." Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator National Press Club, July 1, 2011 › View Speech Video | › Speech Text (82 KB PDF)
The end of the space shuttle program does not mean the end of NASA, or even of NASA sending humans into space. NASA has a robust program of exploration, technology development and scientific research that will last for years to come. Here is what's next for NASA:
Artist's concept of the new Space Launch System rocket launching with the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Credit: NASA › View Full Size
The Research Flight Deck is being used to develop safer and more efficient cockpit technologies. Credit: NASA › View Full Size
The Juno mission will arrive at Jupiter in 2016. Credit: NASA › View Full SizeExploration
NASA is designing and building the capabilities to send humans to explore the solar system, working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars. We will build the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, based on the design for the Orion capsule, with a capacity to take four astronauts on 21-day missions.
NASA is also moving forward with the development of the Space Launch System-- an advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit. The SLS rocket will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, which will include shuttle engines for the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage.
We are developing the technologies we will need for human exploration of the solar system, including solar electric propulsion, refueling depots in orbit, radiation protection and high-reliability life support systems.
International Space Station
The International Space Station is the centerpiece of our human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit. The ISS is fully staffed with a crew of six, and American astronauts will continue to live and work there in space 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Part of the U.S. portion of the station has been designated as a national laboratory, and NASA is committed to using this unique resource for scientific research.
We believe it is possible to build an aircraft that uses less fuel, gives off fewer emissions, and is quieter, and we are working on the technologies to create that aircraft. NASA is also part of the government team that is working to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, to be in place by the year 2025. We will continue to validate new, complex aircraft and air traffic control systems to ensure that they meet extremely high safety levels.
NASA is conducting an unprecedented array of missions that will seek new knowledge and understanding of Earth, the solar system and the universe. NASA has observatories in Earth orbit and deep space, spacecraft visiting the moon and other planetary bodies, and robotic landers, rovers, and sample return missions. NASA's science vision encompasses questions as practical as hurricane formation, as enticing as the prospect of lunar resources, and as profound as the origin of the Universe.
Learn more about:
The Dawn spacecraft's visit to the large asteroid Vesta to help us understand the earliest chapter of our solar system's history.
Juno's mission to Jupiter, arriving in July 2016 to investigate the gas giant's origins, structure, and atmosphere.
The GRAIL mission to study the moon's gravity field and determine the structure of the lunar interior.
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Curiosity team is almost finished robotic arm tests in preparation for the rover to touch and examine its first Martian rock.
Tests with the 7-foot (2.1-meter) arm have allowed the mission team to gain confidence in the arm's precise maneuvering in Martian temperature and gravity conditions. During these activities, Curiosity has remained at a site it reached by its most recent drive on Sept. 5. The team will resume driving the rover this week and use its cameras to seek the first rock to touch with instruments on the arm.
"We're about to drive some more and try to find the right rock to begin doing contact science with the arm," said Jennifer Trosper, Curiosity mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Two science instruments -- a camera called Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) that can take close-up, color images and a tool called Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) that determines the elemental composition of a target rock -- have passed preparatory tests at the rover's current location. The instruments are mounted on a turret at the end of the arm and can be placed in contact with target rocks.
Curiosity's Canadian-made APXS had taken atmospheric readings earlier, but its first use on a solid target on Mars was this week on a calibration target brought from Earth. X-ray detectors work best cold, but even the daytime APXS tests produced clean data for identifying elements in the target.
"The spectrum peaks are so narrow, we're getting excellent resolution, just as good as we saw in tests on Earth under ideal conditions," said APXS principal investigator Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. "The good news is that we can now make high-resolution measurements even at high noon to support quick decisions about whether a sample is worthwhile for further investigations."
The adjustable-focus MAHLI camera this week has produced sharp images of objects near and far, "Honestly, seeing those images with Curiosity's wheels in the foreground and Mount Sharp in the background simply make me cry," said MAHLI principal investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. "I know we're just getting started, but it's already been an incredible journey."
MAHLI is also aiding evaluation of the arm's ability to position its tools and instruments. Curiosity moved the arm to predetermined "teach points" Sept. 11, including points above each of three inlet ports where it will later drop samples of soil and powdered rock into analytical instruments inside the rover. Images from the MAHLI camera confirmed the placements. Photos taken before and after opening the inlet cover for the chemistry and mineralogy (CheMin) analytical instrument also confirmed good operation of the cover.
"Seeing that inlet cover open heightens our anticipation of getting the first solid sample into CheMin in the coming weeks," said CheMin principal investigator David Blake of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
A test last week that checked X-rays passing through an empty sample cell in CheMin worked well. It confirmed the instrument beneath the inlet opening is ready to start analyzing soil and rock samples.
Curiosity is five weeks into a 2-year prime mission on Mars. It will use 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.