For the last few years, we’ve been able to frame NASA’s research and exploration with the goal of reaching Mars. The agency has been saying it wanted to land a human on the red planet in the 2030s, but now that’s looking less likely. William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, has noted that NASA simply doesn’t have the money to make a Mars landing happen.
In NASA’s science account, planetary science emerges as a big winner, with the report allocating $2.12 billion, a record level. That amount is $191 million above the White House request and $275 million above what Congress provided in 2017. Some of that additional funding will go to missions to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, thought to have a subsurface ocean of liquid water that could sustain life.
Apollo astronauts Walt Cunningham, Michael Collins and Harrison "Jack" Schmitt joined Aldrin, one of 12 people to walk on the moon, at the sold-out fundraiser. "I like to think of myself as an innovative futurist," Aldrin told a crowd of nearly 400 people in the Apollo/Saturn V Center. "The programs we have right now are eating up every piece of the budget and it has to be reduced if we're ever going to get anywhere."
Public libraries are quickly becoming centers for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) enrichment in the United States, with many starting to introduce interactive learning spaces. Recently, 75 U.S. libraries were chosen to receive resources, training and support to bring STEM education opportunities to library patrons as part of NASA@ My Library.
Pence -- standing on a flag-draped podium in KSC's cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building -- offered no time frame or budget for the expeditions, but said partnerships with commercial companies are key. He repeatedly called for a "re-establishment" of American leadership in space and made no mention of ongoing or future international partnerships or collaborations, such as the International Space Station, a $100 billion project of 15 nations.
The design process is being headed by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. The goal is to use a refrigerator-sized object to smash into and deflect an asteroid from Earth. Of course, there’s no way such a mission could stop an asteroid that’s poised to smack into the planet in the near future. However, a little nudge early enough might alter an object’s orbit and cause it to miss an impact with Earth.
As NASA makes plans to one day send humans to Mars, one of the key technical gaps the agency is working to fill is how to provide enough power on the Red Planet’s surface for fuel production, habitats and other equipment. One option: small nuclear fission reactors, which work by splitting uranium atoms to generate heat, which is then converted into electric power.
Today, President Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the National Space Council, an executive agency that will be tasked with guiding US space policy during the administration. The council, typically chaired by the vice president, is one that the US has seen before; it was first in operation during the ‘60s and ‘70s and then again under the George H.W. Bush administration, before being dissolved in 1993. Now, it’s back again, and this time with Vice President Mike Pence at the helm.
For the last year, the Curiosity rover has been studying the surface of Mars with more independence than ever before, saving human time and energy. The partly autonomous exploration is also helping people sidestep the constraints of working across vast distances in space. This new capability is powered by software called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, or AEGIS.
NASA is aiming to have humans on Mars in the next few decades, even if that comes with more risk than we originally thought. Just getting there is only the first challenge. Humans have to be able to survive and explore the red planet, and the agency just unveiled a vehicle that could help with the latter. The new six-wheeled rover looks like it just rolled out of a sci-fi movie.