Exploring New Frontiers: NASA’s Ongoing Work and Upcoming Projects

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is a United States government agency that has been responsible for research in the field of space exploration.

The agency was established when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act on July 29, 1958. This was in response to the 1957 launch of the Soviet Union’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. Scientific research, technology, and space exploration are NASA’s primary goals.

NASA has made various ground-breaking achievements in the field of space exploration, including the following programs:

  1. Mercury and Gemini Programs

As a result of this, one of the earliest programs of NASA, Mercury, witnessed the first American in space (Alan Shepard) and the first American to orbit the Earth (John Glenn). Special Techniques like spacewalking were developed by Gemini.

  1. Apollo Program

The program was aimed at making traveling to the moon and back possible. AS-204, which was planned to be the first crewed mission of the program, was renamed Apollo 1.

The iconic Apollo 11 mission (1961–1972) landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in July 1969. There were many Apollo missions, with Apollo 17 being the last one in 1972.

  1. Skylab

NASA’s first space station, Skylab, was launched in 1973 and had a team of astronauts responsible for experiments and research for several years before microgravity re-entered space.

  1. Space Shuttle Program

For the creation of a reusable spacecraft capable of carrying weight into orbit and back to Earth. Vertical operations began with the Space Orbiter, which returned as a glider. It played a key role in launching satellites, conducting scientific research, and establishing the International Space Station (ISS).

            The program was in action for many years, from 1972 to 2011.

  1. International Space Station

The ISS serves as a unique laboratory for scientific research, technological development, and international cooperation in space. NASA’s collaboration with international partners, including Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada, to construct the ISS.

  1. Mars Exploration

           Various robotic missions have been sent to Mars, including rovers like                

           Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and Perseverance have expanded

          our knowledge of the Red Planet.

In recent times, various new projects have been undertaken, and many of the new projects are ongoing to ensure advancement in the fields of space, science, and research. These projects have had a significant impact on global space research.

NASA’s IV and V Programs

NASA launched the IV&V program in 1993 based on recommendations from the National Research Council (NRC) and the President’s Executive Committee following the crash of the Space Shuttle Challenger. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre (GSFC) manages the program in Greenbelt, Maryland. It operates under the management of the Office of Safety and Mission (OSMA).

Some current projects that have been undertaken under NASA’s IV&V Program have been described below:

1. Artemis

   The vision of this project is to take the first woman and the next man to the moon by 2024 using technology that would aid in exploring the lunar surface in a much better way.  NASA has planned to use the information it will receive to send the first astronauts to Mars.

The launch of Artemis 1 has already taken place on November 16, 2022. The key objectives for Artemis 1 were to demonstrate the Orion systems in a spaceflight environment and to ensure safe re-entry, descent, splashdown, and recovery before the first manned flight of Artemis II.

The Artemis II is planned to be launched in November 2024.

2. Dragonfly

Dragonfly, a rotorcraft with a drone-like structure, will be used to explore life chemistry and habitability history on various surfaces of Saturn’s moon Titan.

This spacecraft will facilitate our search for the building blocks of life by studying the main regions of the moon.

3. Europa Clipper

This planned mission would investigate the chances of life on Jupiter’s moon by carefully studying its features.

4. Exploration Ground Systems

The main objective is to prepare for the launch of the next-generation vehicles and spacecraft, which are specially designed to achieve NASA’s goals for space exploration.

5. James Webb Space Telescope

It is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope that will probe for the “first light” after the Big Bang and will be responsible for finding out the first galaxies formed in the early universe and establishing a connection between the Big Bang and our Milky Way Galaxy.

It has the potential to peer through dusty clouds, observe the planetary systems formed by the stars, and search for the chemical signatures of extraterrestrial life.

6. Joint Polar Satellite System-2

The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) is an advanced series of polar-orbiting environmental satellites. These satellites circle the Earth from pole to pole and cross the equator 14 times daily, thus providing global coverage twice a day.

JPSS-2 will ensure operational continuity of satellite observations and products for NOAA’s Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite (POES) and NPP Suomi’s satellite and ground systems. The basic plan for the JPSS Ground System will be maintained to support JPSS-2, like JPSS-1.

7. Mars Sample Return

This is part of Mars exploration, where the rover Perseverance aims to collect rock and regulate samples in its collection tubes.

It then leaves some of them on the Martian surface for the ESA-provided “fetch” rover to collect them and deliver them to a NASA-provided Mars Ascent Vehicle, which would then launch the samples into orbit around Mars. The ESA-provided Return-to-Earth Orbiter will then re-interview the structure in orbit around Mars and put it in the anti-climate solution to return to Earth in 2030.

8. Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion MPCV)

The aircraft was designed to play a key role as a vehicle for low-orbit broadcasts. It is capable of routine operations (communication, berthing, and extravehicular activities) in space with payloads launched by the Space Launch System.

9. Psyche

The mission acts as a journey to a unique metal asteroid orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. It has the appearance of the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, one of the building blocks of our solar system.

The spacecraft is scheduled to be launched at the end of 2023 to 16 Psyche, a metallic object in the asteroid belt.

10. Space Launch Systems

The Space Launch System (SLS) program will build a heavy-lift vehicle to take humans into space beyond low Earth orbit. The launch vehicle will be able to send Orion MPCV to asteroids, the Moon, Lagrangian hotspots, and eventually Mars.

11. Roman Space Telescope

The Rome Space Telescope (formerly WFIRST, Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope) is a mission aimed at answering important questions in exoplanet search and dark space science.

NASA- Few failed projects

While NASA has had its share of challenges and setbacks throughout its history, it’s important to note that failures are often important learning experiences that contribute to future successes. Here are a few notable projects by NASA that faced tough times or did not achieve their intended objectives:

Mars Climate Orbiter (1998): The Mars Climate Orbiter was designed to study the Martian climate and serve as a communication relay for other missions. However, a navigational error due to a mismatch of metric and imperial units caused the spacecraft to approach Mars at too low an altitude, resulting in it burning up in the Martian atmosphere.

Mars Polar Lander (1999): The Mars Polar Lander was intended to study the Martian polar regions. Unfortunately, contact was lost just before the lander’s scheduled touchdown on Mars, and the mission was declared a failure. The exact cause of the failure remains uncertain.

Deep Space 2 (1999): Deep Space 2 was a mission that involved two small probes designed to impact the surface of Mars and provide data on subsurface conditions. Unfortunately, both probes failed to make contact with Earth after separation from the main spacecraft, and the mission was deemed unsuccessful.

Gravity Probe B (2004): The Gravity Probe B mission aimed to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity by measuring the geodetic effect and frame-dragging around Earth. The mission experienced several technical challenges and delays, but ultimately, it successfully collected data and confirmed key predictions of Einstein’s theory.

Constellation Program (2004-2010): The Constellation Program was an ambitious initiative that aimed to develop a new generation of crewed spacecraft, including the Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets, to return humans to the Moon and eventually reach Mars. However, due to budget constraints and technical challenges, the program was canceled in 2010 after significant investments had been made.

Glory (2011): The Glory satellite was designed to study Earth’s climate and measure aerosols in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the spacecraft failed to reach orbit after a rocket failure, resulting in the mission’s termination.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Delays: The JWST, considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, has faced numerous technical challenges and delays since its inception. Originally planned for launch in 2007, it has experienced budget overruns and technical issues, pushing its launch date to late 2021. Despite these setbacks, the JWST is highly anticipated and expected to provide groundbreaking observations once operational.

It’s worth noting that even though these projects faced difficulties or did not achieve their original goals, NASA has made significant progress and achieved numerous successes in space exploration and scientific research throughout its history.

However they have came out very strongly and learnt from failures and now leading the way globally.

NASA’s collaboration with SpaceX and Northrop Grumman

Two American companies are meeting NASA’s commercial space requirement by supporting the International Space Station as a part of the commercial space program.

Years after the end of the Space Shuttle Program, Cargo launched from the United States began being resupplied by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman.

Rockets and spacecraft were developed through public-private partnerships under the agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. This program has made transportation to and from the space station and low-Earth orbit safe, cost-effective, and reliable. Both companies have been awarded commercial resupply services contracts to each deliver 20 metric tons of cargo to the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX was the agency’s second-largest vendor as of fiscal year 2022. Founded by Elon Musk, the company is a private company specializing in the development of advanced rockets and spacecraft.

The partnership has been quite advantageous for NASA, providing access to SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Rockets and Dragon spacecraft, which can carry large payloads into space. In addition to them, NASA also has access to advanced technologies such as SpaceX’s reusable rocket boosters, which can lower the cost of the launches.

This collaboration has also benefited SpaceX, giving it access to NASA’s expertise and infrastructure, such as Kennedy Space Centre and the Marshall Space Flight Centre, and the opportunity to work with some of the world’s most renowned scientists and engineers. 

Conclusion

NASA has made many breakthroughs in the field of Space exploration and has opened different horizons of research for scientists and engineers, allowing them to understand the science behind the existence of life.

The collaboration the agency has made has proved to bring a plethora of opportunities, as it has made the process of sending astronauts, satellites, and spacecraft to different planets very cost-effective and efficient due to the introduction of much better and more efficient technologies.

The technological advancements of probes, exploration of distant celestial bodies, study of their features, and study of our planet Earth are on the path of revolutionizing the way we live and the way we look at life.

The future projects, which include the use of the James Webb Space Telescope , studying different planets and their moons for the possibility of life on them, or understanding the mystery behind the Big Bang and the existence of other galaxies in the universe, are ensuring a promising future for the entire world, as the time is not far away when people would be able to travel to different planets and start a life there.

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