Whenever I suggest the notion that I might work for NASA in the future people always say:
“isn’t NASA shutting down?”
“We’re not even going to the moon anymore”
“They closed NASA already!”
Although many people feel the demise of NASA is upon us as the shuttle program ends, I am here to tell you that is not the complete story.
NASA is not shutting down. They have changed their main focus from space shuttle flights that carry astronauts to low earth orbit (LEO) in order to concentrate on exploring the solar system. Regular access to LEO will depend on other means, until commercial space vehicles develop further.
This is not new to NASA
NASA has changed its focus several times during its 50+ years of existence.
- 1958 – Birth: President Eisenhower establishes NASA in response to the launch of Spuntnik by the Soviet Union.
- 1959 – 1963 Project Mercury: Develop the capability to send humans into orbit around the earth. Alan Shepard flew aboard Freedom 7 to become the first American to make a suborbital flight in space.
- 1963- 1967 Gemeni Program: An intermediate step before going to the moon. Goals included improving re-entry methods, subject astronauts to longer duration missions, and studying the effect of weightlessness on the human body thus allowing us to better understand the human body. Research like this helped lead to the development of physiology modeling programs like Digital Astronaut which helps understand the effect of 0G on astronauts, and can also aid in the understanding of diseases in the medical community.
- 1968 – 1972 The Moon: President Kennedy set the focus of NASA to carry man to the moon( Apollo 11-17).
- 1973 – 1979 SkyLab: Orbital Observatory and research lab that was the predecessor to the International Space Station (ISS). This was also a great technological accomplishment, and testament that humans could live in space.
- 1981 – 2011 Space Shuttle Program: Development of a reusable vehicle to provide regular access to space. The space shuttle aided in the construction of the jointly operated ISS.
- April 1998 NeuroLab: 26 experiments dedicated to studying the effects of weightlessness on the nervous system and the brain. There are some old websites made by the STS-190 crew that can be found here.
- 2011 – future: Human space exploration to Mars, continued experimentation aboard the ISS, development of heavy lift rocket propulsion , science research for space and civilian applications, commercial takeover of LEO transport, and much more. I highly recommend you check out the history of space stations.
If you have read this far you still only have a glimpse of NASA’s dynamic impact in the past(the moon, jet propulsion technologies, etc), and the changing focus through the decades.
Hopefully I have convinced you that NASA will continue to influence science and technological advancements in the future. For those of you who still aren’t convinced and still want specific examples of how NASA will continue to pioneer the advancement of technology look at this informative article by Frank Morring, NASA’s website, or look out for my post concluding my experience as an intern at NASA this summer.