New Direction for NASA

Back in January I wrote a small article lamenting the end of NASA’s Constellation Program, but was optimistically hopeful for the further development of commercial space ventures. It has always been my hope that our current president would be a progressive, pro-science president. With the announcement of the termination of the Constellation Program in February, I began to question that position. On March 15th, however, the president held a compelling press conference at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center which outlines a new vision for NASA. While not quite as inspirational as Kennedy’s “To the Moon!” speech, Obama’s announcement is nevertheless encouraging. Please watch it here, or directly below (30 minutes).

To highlight (all good, with one unfortunate development at the end):

  • NASA’s current projected budget will be increased by $6 billion over the next 5 years.
  • Constellation is still canned, but…
  • The new Orion crew capsule will be developed, and…
  • More than $3 billion will be invested to develop a new heavy lift rocket.
  • Additional funding will be given to manned space flight.
  • A stronger focus on new breakthrough propulsion systems.
  • There will be an increased focus on commercial space flight and commercial space companies.
  • The life of the International Space Station will be extended another 5 years.
  • Planning will begin for a manned missions to near-Earth asteroids in the 2020s
  • Planning will also begin for a manned mission to Mars orbit in 2030s.
  • Sadly, very sadly, there is no plan to return to the Moon.

Please also read Phil Plait’s analysis of these developments.

In addition, NASA has created an excellent 12 minute video to introduce and highlight their new direction. The video also has some great views inside the International Space Station as well. Check it out here.

There are also several hour long “breakout session” videos from the “Conference on the American Space Program” all of which can be found on the NASA TV YouTube site. While they may be long, they are very educational and informative.

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