This year begins a new decade, but it also will see the end of the United States’ trailblazing approach to manned spaceflight: the space shuttle program.
“In just five more flights, a chapter of history will be forever closed,” says Mike Mullane, a three-time NASA space shuttle astronaut and author of Riding Rockets. “It will be decades – perhaps generations – before humans will again see a winged vehicle launch into space and glide back to a runway landing.”Under current plans, NASA’s shuttle fleet will be retired by fall 2010. After that, there will be no more shuttle launches. But until then, travelers to Florida still have time to catch a launch.
“Watching a space shuttle launch is a dream come true for a lot of people,” said Andrea Farmer, public relations manager at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. “It’s so powerful and amazing to see this colossal machine lift off into space. All of your senses are impacted by the launch: You see the shuttle launching, you hear the engines roar and you feel the ground rumbling under your feet.”
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NASA has big plans for its Mars Exploration Program.
As it decides the future of one of the two rovers exploring the planet, the agency is looking to the launch of the newest generation of robotic explorer next year.
In addition, NASA tells CNN Radio that the agency is close to a deal to merge its Mars program with that of the European Space Agency, a big step toward manned missions.
NASA’s Mars rover program is now heading into its sixth year. The rovers Spirit and Opportunity were launched in 2004 and landed on opposite sides of Mars for what was to be a 90-day exploration mission.
Almost six years and a wealth of information later, the rovers were still ranging across the planet until recently, sending back data to researchers on Earth.
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NASA’s Mercury planet exploration team this week said they have created critical tool for the first orbital observations of the planet – a global map of Mercury that will help scientists pinpoint craters, faults, and other features that will be essential for the space agency’s extensive 2011 mission.
That’s when NASA’s satellite MESSENGER (The Mercury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, or MESSENGER) will become the first spacecraft to actually orbit Mercury — about 730 times — beaming back pictures and never-before-available pictures and information on the planet. To get into its proper orbit, MESSENGER has taken the scenic route through the solar system, including one flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and three flybys of Mercury.
A new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum asks the big questions: How can human spaceflight become routine? How can a home and workplace be created in the extreme environment of space? What does the future hold for humans in space?
“Moving Beyond Earth” at the Washington D.C. museum features launch-vehicle models representing the quest for space, telescopes brought back from the Hubble, the suit worn by space tourist Dennis Tito and other items from NASA’s space exploration history.
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