NASA’s Plan for Mars Makes the Old New Again

Curiosity’s photographs its own shadow in Sol 12 of the MSL mission. If NASA’s new plan sticks, we should see the same shot from Curiosity 2.0 in 2020 or 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL

Yesterday, NASA announced a bold new plan of exploration for the coming decade on Mars. It’s exciting. I love plans that include a methodical exploration of other worlds that will help answer the bigger questions out there, like why Mars developed into such a different world than the other inner bodies. But looking a little closer at what few details the agency’s released, it looks less like a concrete plan with a goal and more of a bid to capitalize on Curiosity’s unexpected fame. Which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just sort of an odd thing. [Read more...]

The Soviets’ and Americans’ Approach to Spaceflight

Sputnik 1 expanded: the little satellite that started a big run of firsts for the Soviet Union in space. Credit: NASA

I’ve written a fair bit recently about what Obama’s second term in office might do to help the nation move forward in space. On the surface, Obama’s reelection means his space agenda will remain intact – we should theoretically see NASA return to the Moon and send crews to an asteroid and Mars with the agency’s Orion spacecraft and SLS rocket. But whether or not we’ll see this grand plan come to fruition is another matter. SLS and Orion are costly programs still far from flight ready making them targets for budget cuts. But there’s another factor at play. Obama, like presidents before him, has set audacious and long-term goals that risk losing momentum. [Read more...]

Obama’s Second Term and the National Future in Space

President Barack Obama discusses his plans and ambitions for NASA during an address at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossman

The relationship between space exploration and politics is a complicated one. The President is the only person who can pick a major goal like going to the Moon, but proposals that big have to go through congress for funding. To make sticking to big goals more complicated, each incoming president has the power to change major decisions made by his predecessor in space. With a president having two terms in office, it’s more likely his vision for space will be realized but it’s far from a sure bet. It’s possible that Obama’s second term will get us closer to seeing NASA’s mammoth SLS rocket flying the Orion spacecraft to the Moon, but history tells us that the constant rotation in the White House has a way of stopping big ideas before they get started.