President Barack Obama is behind NASA's bold move to change the focus of its space efforts. The president and NASA officials have set a new path that includes human exploration of space.
With the new approach, NASA's plans include explorations of Mars, asteroids and other destinations, Obama said Thursday.
The president proposed a $6 billion increase in NASA's budget for 2011 to span the next five years. He also committed to a new spacecraft for astronauts, a modified Orion capsule for emergency return, and a new, more powerful rocket.
"I'm proposing a $40 million initiative led by a high-level team from the White House, NASA and other agencies to develop a plan for regional economic growth and job creation," Obama said during his visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The plan, due on the president's desk by Aug. 15, is expected to create an additional 2,500 jobs along the Space Coast over the next two years.
Beyond the Moon
With the increase in funding, NASA plans to increase its knowledge of the solar system and find future targets for human exploration.
"We're 40 years beyond the first landing of humans on the moon, and yet we are still far from the capability to conduct long-duration missions outside of low Earth orbit, let alone to being able to consider sending humans to Mars," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "This is not only because we don't fully understand how humans can cope with the health risks of missions into deep space, but also because we don't completely know what hazards and resources we'll find at these destinations."
Early efforts include bringing advanced communications, power and life support to space. In the next few months NASA will release additional details on specific missions, and over the next few years will announce plans with industries involved in life support systems, inflatable habitats, heavy-lift and in-space propulsion.
One of the first steps is to develop propulsion systems that will send humans into space faster than ever before. Also on NASA's bold agenda is creating fuel depots in space and finding a way to manufacture oxygen, water and fuel with the destination's resources. Other plans involve creating habitats to live in deep space or on other planets.
Living in Space
Now that the president has extended the International Space Station program to 2020 and beyond, NASA will begin fully utilizing the ISS to learn more about what is needed to send humans deeper into space.
Using the lab, NASA has learned more about water processing and conservation, growing plants in space, and the behavior of viruses, the heart, other muscles, and bones.
Soon, Americans will see a series of demonstrations both on the ground and in space, according to NASA. The plan is to send precursor flights to the moon, Mars, and near-Earth asteroids in an effort to land first autonomous vehicles and then humans on Mars.