NASA's Human Spaceflight Programs: From Space Shuttle To The Future

Press Release From: NASA HQ
Posted: Friday, April 13, 2012

image The space shuttle helped the United States expand its leadership in space exploration during the program's 30 years of flight and laid the groundwork for the next 30 years of space exploration. The shuttle began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981, and continued to set high marks of achievement, endurance and technological advancement throughout its life. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft carried hundreds of people to orbit; launched, recovered and repaired satellites; conducted cutting-edge research; and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station (ISS). The final space shuttle mission, STS-135, ended July 21, 2011, when Atlantis rolled to a stop at its home port, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

As the world's first reusable spacecraft, the shuttle pushed the envelope of what was achievable and advanced technology through the efforts of a dedicated workforce throughout NASA's field centers and across the nation. The shuttles now move to their next mission to inspire a new generation of explorers, engineers and scientists as the orbiters go on display for millions of visitors at museums and institutions around the country.

Upcoming Shuttle Orbiter Events

The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is planning a festival of activities, "Welcome Discovery," to celebrate the acquisition of space shuttle Discovery. The festival will begin when the shuttle arrives in the Washington, D.C. area on April 17 and will feature four days of space-related activities, performances, appearances by space pioneers, films and displays at Discovery's new home, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. Discovery will be transferred by NASA to the Smithsonian's collection during an outdoor ceremony on April 19.

On April 23, shuttle Enterprise, the first orbiter built, will move from the Smithsonian to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York. Later this year, shuttle Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, and shuttle Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex.

The Future of NASA

As NASA transfers the shuttle orbiters to museums across the country, the space agency is embarked on an exciting new space exploration journey. Relying on American ingenuity and know-how, NASA is partnering with private industry to provide crew and cargo transportation to the ISS, while developing the most powerful rocket ever built to take the nation farther than ever before into the solar system.

"I've tasked NASA with an ambitious new mission to develop the systems and space technologies that are going to be necessary to conduct exploration beyond Earth, and ultimately sending humans to Mars, which is obviously no small feat, but I know we're going to be up to the task," President Barack Obama said.

Deep Space Exploration

In this new era of space exploration, NASA will build the capabilities to send humans deeper into space than ever before. NASA will use the ISS as a test bed and stepping stone for the journey ahead. The agency is changing the way it does business and fostering a commercial industry that safely will service low Earth orbit so we can focus our energy and resources on sending astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars by the 2030s.

NASA is still training astronauts. More than 6,300 individuals applied to become a NASA astronaut in the class of 2013, the second highest number of applications ever received by the agency. The 2013 class will join the class of 2009 that just graduated and is even now training for the missions of the future. These are the first space travelers that could one day reach an asteroid, and they will pioneer the path for future astronauts to set foot on Mars.

NASA is building the Orion spacecraft with a capacity to take four astronauts on 21-day missions and developing the Space Launch System (SLS), the advanced heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit. The SLS rocket will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, which will include shuttle engines for the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage. Five segment boosters, now in testing, will be used for initial flights. Advanced boosters will be developed soon.

The agency is developing the technologies needed for human exploration of the solar system. NASA's Space Technology Program is working right now on projects such as solar-electric propulsion, lightweight cryogenic propellant tanks, space laser communications, deep space navigation using atomic clocks, refueling depots in orbit, radiation protection and high-reliability life support systems.

NASA has successfully tested the solid rocket booster avionics for the first two test flights of the SLS. The program also has completed the first step in extensive NASA-led reviews that set requirements to further narrow the scope of the system design and evaluate the vehicle concept.
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., has issued a NASA Research Announcement for advanced development proposals to support the new rocket and an announcement about advanced booster risk-reduction.

The space shuttles' main engines will be used in early tests to gather data for the new rocket, and the remaining inventory of these has been transferred from Kennedy to NASA's Stennis Space Center in south Mississippi.

Orion has undergone water drop tests for its eventual ocean landings and tests with parachutes. Work continues on its thermal protection system.

An exploration flight test of Orion will take place in 2014, with a follow-on, uncrewed flight in 2017 that integrates the crew capsule and the new rocket. The inaugural flight with astronauts of the integrated deep space system will occur as early as 2021.

NASA's FY13 budget supports modernization plans for a 21st Century Space Launch Complex to improve capabilities and infrastructure for a low-cost, multi-user space transportation facility at Kennedy in conjunction with Exploration Ground System efforts for the SLS and Orion.

Commercial Space Transportation

Commercial space transportation is a vital component of future human space exploration. As NASA charts a new course to send humans deeper into space than ever before, we are stimulating innovation within the private sector to develop and operate safe, reliable and affordable commercial space transportation systems.

NASA is committed to ensuring that American companies, launching from U.S. soil, transport our astronauts and their cargo to the ISS and other low Earth orbit destinations. In calendar year 2012, NASA will see the first commercial flights to the ISS and we are on track to have American companies transporting our astronauts to station by 2017, ending the outsourcing of this work and creating good paying U.S. jobs. This approach will provide assured access to the station, strengthen America's space industry, and provide a catalyst for future business ventures to capitalize on affordable access for space.

In FY 2013, NASA plans for at least three flights delivering research and logistics hardware to the ISS by U.S.-developed cargo delivery systems.

SpaceX will soon launch its Dragon spacecraft atop its Falcon 9 launch vehicle to test and prove its systems for a rendezvous with the ISS. The flight's objectives include a fly-under of the station to validate operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous, berthing to the station and returning the Dragon spacecraft to Earth. This follows SpaceX's successful 2010 Dragon launch, orbit and recovery.

Later in the year, Orbital Sciences will also launch to the station.

The Boeing Company has announced that it will use the former Orbiter Processing Facility 3 at Kennedy to eventually process its own space transportation system.

NASA also recently issued an announcement for proposals for the next round of commercial crew acquisition activities.

International Space Station

The space station is the centerpiece of NASA's human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit. It is fully staffed with an international crew of six, and American astronauts will continue to live and work there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, as they have for more than 11 years. Part of the U.S. portion of the station has been designated as a national laboratory and NASA is committed to using this unique resource for scientific research.

The station is a test bed for exploration technologies such as autonomous refueling of spacecraft, advanced life support systems and human/robotic interfaces. Commercial companies are well on their way to providing cargo and crew flights to the station, allowing NASA to focus its attention on the next steps into our solar system.
More than 400 scientific studies were conducted on the station last year related to human health and in an array of disciplines. This science improves life on Earth and helps us understand the challenges of living in space.


NASA's human exploration and science activities continue to work closely together to maximize the benefits of both efforts. The agency's FY13 budget supports more than 80 science missions -- 56 currently in operation and 28 now under development -- that cover the vital data we need to understand our own planet; enhance exploration farther into our solar system; and support the next generation of observatories peering beyond the reaches of our neighborhood to other galaxies, their solar systems and undiscovered phenomena.

In August, NASA will land the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity), the largest rover ever, on Mars. NASA also continues to develop and conduct critical tests on the James Webb Space Telescope leading to its planned launch in 2018. As the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb will allow us to continue to revolutionize our understanding of the universe. In addition, the Kepler mission, which has uncovered hundreds of extra-solar planets, has been extended, and NASA missions are speeding to Pluto, Jupiter and many other destinations as well as giving us the clearest picture ever of the Earth and its processes.

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