NASA may not be running frequent shuttle missions anymore, but they are nonetheless still at the cutting edge of space research. From plans to travel to Mars to transforming the aviation industry, let's look at some ways that NASA plans to stay at the top of their game.
[Image Source: NASA via Flickr]
Mission to Mars
Most notably, NASA is working on plans to send manned missions to Mars and possibly start a colony. They have developed the Orion spacecraft system that can carry 4 astronauts to the far outreaches of our solar system. Using the new SLS launch system for propulsion, they are poised to land on Mars by 2030. Within the next 10 years, however, their goal is to land man on a slow moving asteroid. The goals of this mission are to identify, capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit around the moon. Then a manned mission will be sent to land on the asteroid and harvest samples. Both the future missions to Mars and a near-Earth asteroid are ambitious measures NASA is diverting intense resources towards.
NASA's SLS rocket system [Image Source: NASA via Wikimedia Creative Commons]
International Space Station
The international space station has been orbiting around Earth since 1998. Many breakthroughs have been made in the low-gravity environment aboard the multi-national station, but its NASA-sponsored time in space is coming to an end. Current plans call for its decommissioning by 2020. With that said, NASA states in a variety of resources that continued research aboard the station is of great importance to them. They see it as possibly serving as a testing platform for autonomous spacecraft refueling and emergency life support systems. The space agency will continue shrugging off some of the life support missions onto private companies like Space X so they can focus more on deep space exploration.
Next up, NASA is making great strides in the aviation industry and has plans to innovate over the next decade. NASA technology and software is an integral part of virtually every U.S. aircraft and air traffic control center. NASA aeronautics research is the most cutting edge aviation research agency in the U.S, and they help sustain the $1.5 trillion economic activity brought through the aviation industry. Whether you knew it or not, a large portion of NASA resources respective to space research is directed towards facilitating commercial and private aviation in the U.S. They plan on continuing their dominance in aviation innovation and helping further the industry within the U.S.
A concept N3-X hybrid wing aircraft by NASA [Image Source: NASA via Wikimedia Creative Commons]
The Solar System and Beyond
Back to what NASA is planning for space research, they want to gather as much knowledge as possible about both Earth and the entire solar system. The agency is of course mainly focused on exploring Mars, as mentioned before, but current missions are already studying the Sun and the rest of the solar system. One of the key focuses of this extra-terrestrial research is that of understanding space weather to facilitate safer missions for astronauts in the future. Much of this research is done through probes, but also through cutting-edge telescopes. Since the universe is constantly expanding, and due to the speed of light time is variable from our perspective, researchers using these telescopes are trying to see the first moments of the universe's existence to better understand the origin event behind everything that exists.
NASA has a long history of partnership with other countries' space agencies and they plan to continue leading the way for space exploration. Much like the generation that saw man first land on the moon, this generation will see man land on an asteroid and eventually Mars. The next decade will be ripe with some of the most exciting space advancements in over 50 years.