The new Vision for Space Exploration calls for NASA to return humans to the Moon, then travel to Mars and beyond. Imagine traveling through space to live and work on other worlds.
That gets the heart pounding, doesn’t it?
As the nation honored its space heroes May 6 during National Space Day, NASA was already hard at work on its next great endeavor, enabling safe, affordable human missions beyond Earth orbit—and we want every American to share in the excitement and the benefits every step of the way.
First, we will safely return the Space Shuttle to flight to complete the International Space Station, where we will study the effects of extended space exposure on the human body. Then we will return to the Moon—our stepping stone to conducting sustained robotic and human missions anywhere in the Solar System.
Next comes Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor. Did Mars once support life? Will it again? We intend to answer the first question as visitors—and the second as inhabitants. But Mars is just one possible destination. Others could include the icy moons of Jupiter, which might conceal oceans capable of sustaining life, and asteroids that could reveal new secrets about the origins and makeup of the universe.
These are bold objectives, ones only a great nation can accomplish. But Americans—practical as well as bold—want to know the value of this mission of exploration and discovery, and how we will pay for it.
To begin, consider the many thousands of jobs that result from space activities, the millions of dollars in NASA grants and contracts to academia and industry. Money the nation invests in NASA is spent on Earth, not in space.
Since the 1950s, NASA has been a leader in America’s technological progress, delivering advances from medical procedures to wireless telephones, satellite television and household smoke detectors. And still more innovations will emerge as NASA advances the technology state-of-the-art to enable our new mission, improving our economy and quality of life.
Perhaps most importantly, the Vision for Space Exploration will inspire our nation’s youth, motivating generations to study math, science and engineering and pursue careers in technical fields—maintaining America’s technically competent workforce.
So how much will this program cost taxpayers? Today, NASA receives less than one penny of every American tax dollar. The budget associated with the
Exploration mission does not change that. Most of the funding will come from the reorientation of NASA’s existing budget.
This is no small challenge, but we are resolved to make every American proud of their investment in our future in space.
For half a century, our accomplishments in space have been a source of great pride for America. But for all our achievements, the space age is still very much in its infancy. Now we will resume our journey of discovery to distant worlds—one that promises to increase our knowledge, ignite our imaginations and make our spirits soar.
(David A. King is director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., leading critical propulsion, space science and materials research and development work for the U.S. space program. A 21-year NASA veteran, King has served as shuttle launch director at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., and played a key role in the accident investigation and debris recovery following the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003.)
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