NASA’s Picture of the Future of Human Spaceflight

by Nancy Atkinson on February 14, 2012

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NASA infographic on the future of human spaceflight. Credit: NASA. Click for larger pdf poster version.

NASA released a new interactive infographic that attempts to give a picture of future of human spaceflight activities and where NASA might be going. The new Space Launch system and the Orion MPCV figure prominently in going to future destinations such as the Moon, Mars, Near Earth Asteroids and even LaGrange Points. It would be awesome to go to all those destinations, but – call me pessimistic — in reality, we’ll be lucky if we even get to one of them in the next 30 years. But since human spaceflight received favorable funding nods in the new NASA budget proposal, we can hopefully look forward to the first un-crewed test flight of the MPCV in 2013 or 2014.

In the interactive feature you can learn about the SLS and MPCV, along with spacesuits, deep space habitation and communications and more. Additionally, there are interviews with astronauts Sandy Magnus, Harrison Schmitt, and Tom Jones, along with NASA officials Doug Cooke and Waleed Abdalati.

As far as the various destinations, Schmitt says we should return to the Moon as the Apollo missions “barely scratched the surface,” and “the Moon is a history book of what went on in near Earth space and of what went on in the early solar system. The real geoscience value of the Moon is to learn about ourselves.”

Jones says asteroids will also provide scientific information about the early days of the solar system, as well as providing information about space resources such as water. We can also learn about how to protect our planet. “These objects will run into us in the future, as they have done in the past. For us to survive in the long run we’re going to have to learn to operate around and prevent a future collision by applying our space technology to the alteration to the orbits of some of these hazardous objects.”

Journalist Leonard David wrote an article this week about a recent NASA memo that talks about the potential for NASA building a waystation at one of the Earth-Moon libration points. Also, a working group of International Space Station members is being held in Paris this week, and David says this strategy is likely being discussed with international partners. It certainly sounds exciting, but may be perhaps the most expensive destination, as every resource would have to be brought there to build a station, instead of landing on a destination like the Moon or an asteroid and using the potential resources there.

Can NASA be successful in the “multiple path” plan or will they ultimately need to pick just one?

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Robert Gishubl February 15, 2012 at 1:05 AM

NASA will not achieve anything while most of its human spaceflight budget is consumed be developing a large rocket with no mission and a craft that is expensive and provides significant increase in capability above cheaper comercial options.
NASA and congress need to be realistic and work with what is available or can be developed at a reasonable price. SLS is not big enough to to a single launch mission for anything other than a moon trip every other option requires multiple launches so could be eaisily achieved with the 50 ton capacity of Falcon Heavy being developed at no cost to NASA by SpaceX. Deep space exploration could be done with Dragon and a docked habitat giving much greater room and safety than MPCV, in space docking is now routine and would allow habitat to be launced first and crew to launch later on a smaller safer rocket. This path is much cheaper and could be started much sooner than spending $3B per year on development. MPCV will have no man rated launcher until 2016 or 2017 where Dragon has had an un-manned test flight and could fly manned as soon as 2014.

Anonymous February 15, 2012 at 2:37 AM

How unfortunate for us all that NASA has chosen to take a giant leap “backwards” to 45 year old technology to continue our exploration of space. . . . .

Anonymous February 15, 2012 at 6:55 PM

The technology is not old, the technology is very new. Only the capsule shape is being reused.

dendeb1 February 15, 2012 at 11:57 PM

The electronic and computer technology and cockpit displays are new. . . . however, the entire “concept” of launch using chemical rockets and return to earth in a non-reusable craft is old and should be rendered obsolete.

david riendit February 16, 2012 at 1:48 AM

What would you suggest instead? Please don’t say anti-gravity or something like that. Unless of course, you want to be a card-carrying crackpot, then go ahead.

dendeb1 February 16, 2012 at 2:43 AM

I don’t have time to do “your” research “for” you piss-head. Go find your own answers. I found mine. . . .

Olaf2 February 16, 2012 at 8:12 PM

There is no alternative to chemical rockets so far.
Yes there is one rocket that goes up and down to space and will be used commercially, but it is not speeding up to orbital speed which is 28,000 km/h. That is were the fuel goes.

Anonymous February 15, 2012 at 2:39 AM

Multi-path approach with different governmental and private collaborations working interdependently to find the most practical uses of what we have and what can be developed in a standardized time scale. Ultimately the end product would be something that would be cheaper, efficient and just plain practical. Ahhh, if we lived in a perfect world. So yeah, this will never happen, but at least we have private corporations that will get us there… eventually.

Tony Power February 15, 2012 at 2:58 AM

Why are there US flags on those rockets? US Congress isn’t gong to authorise any money to build an american rocket to go into space. They want to use Russian and French rockets to do it.

Ethan Walker February 15, 2012 at 5:40 AM

Congress will authorize money because it cares about that money being spent at facilities in their districts. Unmanned exploration got slashed in the latest budget but the SLS is doing fine.

Anonymous February 15, 2012 at 3:25 AM

Aside from the multi-nation ownership, can anyone give a concrete reason why the ISS can not be moved to a Lagrange point and used as a basis for future explorations? I’ve asked this elsewhere and gotten the complete spectrum of replies, but no concrete reasons. Although it would be an extremely slow process, it seems to me that it would be much, much cheaper and provide a larger station than could be afforded otherwise. Can it be done?

Ethan Walker February 15, 2012 at 5:37 AM

1. It’s not designed to protect crew or electronics from the levels of radiation outside the magnetosphere
2. The delta-V from orbit to the L2 is 330 m/s; not too high, but for something as large as the ISS it will take a large chunk of fuel, say 40 tons. Once there station keeping will actually increase fuel consumption vs LEO
3. Crewing and supplying would get that much harder.

On the whole it could probably be done if you really wanted to. However the big thing is what would it do once it got there? You don’t need a manned station for refueling, and why even set up a refueling station if there isn’t some local resource? The L2 isn’t actually substantially closer to anywhere we would want to go. The one way the ISS could theoretically help exploration would be aiding in construction of a ship in orbit, but you would want to do that in orbit not far out at the L2.

Anonymous February 15, 2012 at 1:21 PM

Also, I think the idea with the Lagrange points is to stock them supplies – equipment, fuel and food – for which you’d want dedicated modules, not modules designed for human habitation like those of the ISS. I don’t think anyone is planning to keep astronauts stationed long-term at a Lagrange point, as they would be a big drain on resources.

Anonymous February 15, 2012 at 6:54 PM

In addition, the ISS also ages.
The outside gets bombarded by micro meteorites and radiation. The soar panels age, the ball bearing age, the gyroscopes age…

The inside also gets problems with mold, and corrosion because if the water vapour. And rubber gets destroyed by the oxygen….

Anonymous February 15, 2012 at 6:50 PM

At the rate that NASA’s budget is cut, the only way they will go up is in a balloon in 5 times from now.

Facts About Earth February 19, 2012 at 6:38 AM

Wow, I know this is quite unbelievable but I still love to have that flight if ever NASA could achieve that.

squidgeny February 16, 2012 at 9:25 AM

I don’t think he’s asking you to do any research, I think he’s just curious about what alternatives you think NASA should be exploring (though he asked rather rudely).

I certainly think ideas like Skylon are worth investing in… but I’m sure NASA has plenty of good reasons to keep on going with chemical rockets.

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