ABC News Radio(WASHINGTON) — What’s next for NASA?
The legendary space agency that landed a man on the moon, launched the Voyager spacecraft into infinity, the Hubble Space Telescope to unlock the mysteries of the universe, and landed legendary rovers on Mars, is now searching for its next mission.
It’s tough to plan for a long-term mission, when each new administration presses the reset button, with many programs that have been started and cancelled.
Can NASA recapture the glory of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, when millions of people around the world watched Neil Armstrong step gingerly onto the lunar surface? Or did the 30 years of space shuttle flights make spaceflight too routine?
Three years ago the shuttles were retired, sent to museums, and U.S. astronauts lost their own ride to space, forced to buy seats on Russian rockets to get back and forth to the International Space Station.
That has put the U.S. in a very bad position, according to former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin,
“We’re in a hostage situation; Russia can decide, if it wishes to do so, no more U.S. astronauts can ride to the International Space Station, and that’s not a position that I want our nation to be in,” Griffin said.
Even before Malaysia Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, new tensions were rising between the U.S. and Russia. The Russian deputy prime minister threatened this spring: if America wants astronauts in space, it should get a trampoline.
There is however, a new space race. Private companies are competing for billions of NASA dollars to build the next spaceship for U.S. astronauts and NASA will soon decide which of the competitors will get the contract.
Sierra Nevada is building a newer, sportier version of the old space shuttle. It is a sleeker passenger craft that could land anywhere a 747 lands — perhaps at one of the many spaceports popping up around the country.
SpaceX has the Dragon, the first commercial ship to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, but it is not yet rated to carry humans.
Boeing is developing an Apollo-like capsule, the CST 100, which would carry seven astronauts.
NASA wants the winning design to launch by 2017. But many want the U.S. to go beyond just Earth’s orbit.
Getting a consensus from Congress is the challenge. Should NASA go back to the Moon, or send humans to Mars? Or proceed with the plan to capture an asteroid?
Griffin says these missions are tied together — one step leads to another.
“We should be preparing to go to Mars,” he said. “We should be using the experiences that we gain learning how to live on the moon to enable us to learn how when we get to Mars to live there for a while, because when we go to Mars, you’re not coming home quickly. It’s going to be a six or seven-month trip one way. Then you’re going to be there for a year, and then you’re going to come home.”
Griffin added, “It’ll be the kind of thing that human beings haven’t done since the great voyages of discovery.”
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