What’s Next For NASA?

“As a former astronaut and the current NASA Administrator, I’m here to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we have laid the foundation for success — and failure is not an option.”
Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator
National Press Club, July 1, 2011
› View Speech Video | › Speech Text (82 KB PDF)

The end of the space shuttle program does not mean the end of NASA, or even of NASA sending humans into space. NASA has a robust program of exploration, technology development and scientific research that will last for years to come. Here is what’s next for NASA:

Artist concept of SLS launchingArtist’s concept of the new Space Launch System rocket launching with the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. Credit: NASA
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The International Space Station is featured in this image taken after Endeavour's departureThe International Space Station in May 2011. Credit: NASA
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Image of a cockpit on an airplane.The Research Flight Deck is being used to develop safer and more efficient cockpit technologies. Credit: NASA
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Juno Mission to Jupiter (2010 Artist's Concept)The Juno mission will arrive at Jupiter in 2016. Credit: NASA
› View Full SizeExploration
NASA is designing and building the capabilities to send humans to explore the solar system, working toward a goal of landing humans on Mars. We will build the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, based on the design for the Orion capsule, with a capacity to take four astronauts on 21-day missions.

NASA is also moving forward with the development of the Space Launch System— an 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 enginesfor the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage.

We are developing the technologies we will need for human exploration of the solar system, including solar electric propulsion, refueling depots in orbit, radiation protection and high-reliability life support systems.

International Space Station
The International Space Station is the centerpiece of our human spaceflight activities in low Earth orbit. The ISS is fully staffed with a crew of six, and American astronauts will continue to live and work there in space 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 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 ISS is a test bed for exploration technologies such as autonomous refueling of spacecraft, advanced life support systems and human/robotic interfacesCommercial companies are well on their way to providing cargo and crew flights to the ISS, allowing NASA to focus its attention on the next steps into our solar system.

NASA is researching ways to design and build aircraft that are safer, more fuel-efficient, quieter, and environmentally responsible. We are also working to create traffic management systems that are safer, more efficient and more flexible. We are developing technologies that improve routing during flights and enable aircraft to climb to and descend from their cruising altitude without interruption.

We believe it is possible to build an aircraft that uses less fuel, gives off fewer emissions, and is quieter, and we are working on the technologies to create that aircraft. NASA is also part of the government team that is working to develop the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, to be in place by the year 2025. We will continue to validate new, complex aircraft and air traffic control systems to ensure that they meet extremely high safety levels.

NASA is conducting an unprecedented array of missions that will seek new knowledge and understanding of Earth, the solar system and the universe. NASA has observatories in Earth orbit and deep space, spacecraft visiting the moon and other planetary bodies, and robotic landers, rovers, and sample return missions. NASA’s science vision encompasses questions as practical as hurricane formation, as enticing as the prospect of lunar resources, and as profound as the origin of the Universe.

Learn more about:

  • The Dawn spacecraft’s visit to the large asteroid Vesta to help us understand the earliest chapter of our solar system’s history.
  • Juno’s mission to Jupiter, arriving in July 2016 to investigate the gas giant’s origins, structure, and atmosphere.
  • The GRAIL mission to study the moon’s gravity field and determine the structure of the lunar interior.
  • The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, a critical first step in building a next-generation Earth-monitoring satellite system.
  • The Mars Science Laboratory named Curiosity, looking for evidence of microbial life on the red planet.
  • The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array’s search for black holes, mapping of supernova explosions, and study of the most extreme active galaxies.

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