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What are the USA's Future Plans for Space Travel?

Part of the Constellation program was to have astronauts living on a moon base for six months at a time.
The Orion will be used as an escape capsule from the International Space Station.
Robots are often used in contemporary space exploration.
U.S. presidents often set the long-range goals for travel into space.
After the Space Transportation System, popularly known as the "Space Shuttle", was retired, the US had to rely on the Russian Soyuz booster-capsule system to reach the ISS.
There is some question as to whether or not the US will go back to the Moon.
Eventually, space travel will include visiting other planets.
Plans are underway to send astronauts to an asteroid.
It's unlikely NASA will explore Mars with manned missions until after 2030.
The cancellation of the Space Shuttle program means that the United States currently has no way to construct large space stations.
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The USA's future plans for space travel were outlined in the Vision for Space Exploration, stated by U.S. President George W. Bush on 14 January 2004. Throughout late 2004 and early 2005, Congress passed legislation showing their support for the Vision, including a $16.2 billion US Dollar (USD) NASA budget and a bill that explicitly endorses the project. Several years later, President Barack Obama canceled parts of the plan, including the Constellation program that was designed to take astronauts back to the Moon, but insisted that the administration was still committed to manned space flight.

The highlight of the original plan was a return to the Moon with robotic and crewed missions, including plans for a long-habitation moon base to be occupied by 2024. The base would have astronauts staying for six months at a time, similar to a typical stay on a space station in low earth orbit. The Moon base was seen as a long-term stepping stone for Mars missions.

The Vision for Space Exploration included numerous goals and anticipated milestones. First were robotic missions to the Moon, planned for sometime between 2008 and 2010. In 2010, the Space Shuttles were retired, and the United States no longer had a means of human space travel. The country is dependent on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for trips into space. The International Space Station is expected to be completed by 2012.

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Despite the cancellation of the Constellation program, the Orion spacecraft, capable of carrying four to six astronauts, is scheduled to be tested by 2014, although it's not expected to be used before 2020. It's expected to be used as an escape capsule from the International Space Station rather than as a spacecraft capable of traveling to the station. In 2010, President Obama announced plans for the Shuttle-Derived Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV), to be completed by 2015, and plans to send astronauts to an asteroid. Missions to Mars are still predicted, likely sometime after 2030.

It is obvious why the original primary focus of the US space travel vision was the Moon: it is the closest celestial body, with many of the basic resources necessary to sustain life and an economy, not to mention an excellent view. Some people still believe that the US should go back to the Moon, and that humanity will eventually settle there. With luck and the continued acceleration of progress in the enabling technologies, travel to more planets is still hoped for.

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feasting
Post 10

@OeKc05 – It only took previous missions a little less than a year to get to Mars. It's all about timing and placement, though.

Mars is sometimes closer to Earth than at other times. It's all about where it is in its orbit.

I'm not sure exactly how they time it, but I do know that missions usually wind up in the orbit before they land. It would be so exciting to be on board that first mission that gets to travel to Mars! So far, we've just sent machines to collect data.

OeKc05
Post 9

Isn't Mars a ridiculous amount of light years away from Earth? Is it close enough that a human could get there without having aged too much to walk around and explore?

Kristee
Post 8

I don't think living on the moon would be so awesome. You could never go outside without some sort of breathing apparatus. I don't do well when trapped indoors.

There might be a great view of the planet Earth, but still, not being able to get fresh air would get to me after awhile. I'm big on being outdoors, and I just don't think I could live long on the moon.

matthewc23
Post 7

I don't know how realistic it is to be getting an inhabited moon base by 2024. I guess it's a ways off, but I find it hard to imagine that we could have people living there by that time. We haven't been back to the moon for several decades.

I think the exploration of Mars is a step in the right direction, though. A lot of people don't realize that there have been three different rovers that have gone there. That being said, we're still far off from ever visiting Mars. I doubt it will happen in the lifetime of anyone who is currently on Earth.

jmc88
Post 6

This article was very interesting. I had no idea that there was a space travel timeline in place. Like someone else mentioned, it seems like peoples' interest in space exploration has declined. Does anyone have any idea whether we are actually staying on track with the schedule? I do know that the International Space Station has been completed and that the US space shuttles are out of commission.

I know a lot of the interest now is for private space travel both in terms of tourism and having private companies design space shuttles for government exploration.

I think using private sources is a great idea. They have been proven to be just as much if not more reliable than NASA's space ships. Since there would be competition between companies, it should be cheaper, as well.

titans62
Post 5

@vogueknit17 - I don't know if you have heard of an astronomer/physicist named Michio Kaku, but he has a theory like that dealing with how humans will come to manipulate their environment.

According to him, we are in the border between the first and second phase. In the first, we are just surviving in our world. We use nonrenewable resources for energy, and there is a lot of war. In the second stage, we start to use renewable resources and harness more of the sun's power.

In stage three, we start to control our environment. We would be able to make it rain in certain areas and stop hurricanes from forming. All the while, we are slowly forming a global society with a common language and currency. Eventually, we reach stage four where we are a unified society that is determined to explore space and establish civilization on other colonies. Assuming there is other life in the universe, we would also begin trading with them.

TreeMan
Post 4

@hyrax53 - I think it's safe to say that we'll inhabit the moon some day. I also think it's safe to say that there will be plenty of wars on the moon far off in the future. I don't see humans ever solving their problems. They'll just shift them to a new medium. Instead of fighting for who gets the oil in the Middle East they'll be fighting for who gets some special crater.

That being said, I do think commercial space travel will eventually become a reality. I think it would be great to be able to travel to the moon on vacation. Whether we get to the point of travelling between galaxies is more up in the air.

vogueknit17
Post 3

I think there is also a good argument for increased space travel. The idea of seeing other parts of the universe could help unite the entire planet, making us pay less attention to our own pettiness. Yes, space travel today seems impossibly far from the things on TV shows like Star Trek and Firefly, but maybe that would be much closer than we think if we devoted adequate time to this sort of exploration.

hyrax53
Post 2

Many people believe that the future of space travel has been handicapped by a loss of interest and a severely cut budget. While that might be true, there is also something to be said for the number of problems, both local and abroad, which should probably be solved before Americans and people of other countries direct all of their attention to space.

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