NASA Goes Deep After The Shuttle Program
The Russian Soyuz vehicle, which will be used to service the space station exclusively once the Shuttle is retired, has minimal cargo space.
With the various ongoing science experiments in the 6-7 laboratory modules bolted onto the station, computer data can be transferred down to earth, “but it can’t bring any actual material back,” he says.
The Dream Chaser, designed to land on any airport runway, can fit more people and transport, either way, more cargo than Soyuz.
“We have all elements in the U.S. to do the same thing – people, companies, infrastructure,” says Sirangelo. “It’s about U.S. jobs. It’s a vibrant economic argument. Private space companies in Russia are hiring people right now.”
NASA's 1,100 full-time Shuttle employees will be transferred to other programs, but the 5,000 contractor employees, down from 14,000 five years ago, are out of jobs.
In the next six months,the United Launch Alliance – the five year old joint venture between U.S. space stalwarts Lockheed Martin and Boeing – is scheduled to launch four NASA spacecraft throughout the solar system. Their missions range from climate and weather, to life on other planets and the origins of the solar system. Last month, the Aquarius mission took orbit, representing ULA’s 51st successful launch. It will attempt to measure ocean salinity from space, to provide new insights into how it influences weather and climate.
In late November, ULA will launch the Mars Space Laboratory, five times larger and 10 times heavier than previous Mars Rovers. It’s scheduled to land on Mars in August 2012 and will attempt to further assess whether Mars can support human life.
The joint venture uses new generations of Lockheed’s Atlas and Boeing’s Delta expendable launch vehicles used in U.S. space missions for more than 50 years.
NASA also has committed $500 million to two private companies to begin unmanned cargo shuttles to the International Space Station.
SpaceX, a Hawthorne, Calif.-based company, and Orbital Sciences, located near Washington, D.C., should begin the U.S. share of cargo flights within six to 18 months. Technical challenges and production delays have forced NASA to put some of that cargo onto the last shuttle flight.
Adm. Craig Steidle, named in April as president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, sees a bright future for both NASA and “the new entrants to the community, such as SpaceX and Sierra Nevada.”
“This is a new twist, the moving forward with the more commercial part of spaceflight,” Steidle said. “We believe NASA now has an all-encompassing program that is not just a moon race but a sustained vision for space exploration that will spur a lot of technological development and create jobs.”
As NASA director Bolden put it: “We are in the early days of our next chapter into human space flight. We’re on the ground floor of the next frontier.”