What will happen to NASA in 20 years? Solve all the private companies and China

20 years ago, in 1998, NASA launched the Lunar Prospector mission that found water on the moon. In the same year, 15 countries have come together to agree on a framework for the construction of the International space station and then start the first part of the laboratory into orbit. In the same year its first successful test flight carried out a new spacecraft NASA X-38. All of these events, each in its own way, helped to determine the course of space development of the United States.

Looking back, you notice one fact: the past is prologue, and history povtoryaetsya. Reach people in the field of space flights made 20 years ago, presaged the current state of Affairs in the cosmos, so, watching as bloomed the seeds and as dried up, you can try to understand what will happen in the future.

Over the last couple of years, several important changes all trends in the field of space exploration, many of which were largely unforeseen in 1998. Today we have a new space company, their sponsors, billionaire, we see the development of international players, particularly China, which may overtake and surpass the cosmic exploits of NASA.

So, where will humanity be in 20 years? Let’s try to understand the future by looking into the past.

January 6, the spacecraft Lunar Prospector has gone in the direction of the moon on the Athena II rocket. It was the second mission, with people or robots in General, which NASA sent to the moon since 1973.

The dozen astronauts who visited the lunar surface in the late 60’s and early 70-ies, found on the moon a cold, dead, dry world. Buzz Aldrin, who first landed there, along with Neil Armstrong, described the landscape in which they are entered as “astounding devastation”. But years passed, and scientists began to believe that centuries of water ice accumulated in the shadowed regions at the poles of the moon. These cold traps could hold ice from comets and other sources, because in the dark vacuum he would not have been possible somewhere to leak — the temperature never rose above -190 degrees Celsius.

Among the devices that were with Lunar Prospector was a neutron spectrometer that can detect hydrogen at the lunar poles, and hence to determine the presence of water. Before the mission, scientists estimated that could find from a few dozen to several hundred million tons of water ice. During its 19-month mission, the unit found three billion metric tons. A devastated world was suddenly full of water. This opening seemed very large.

On the Ground, in January 1998, USA, Russia, Canada and a dozen European partners have signed a formal agreement to develop and operate the International space station. In the same year, in November, the Russian space Agency launched the Zarya module, which was to provide movement control and communications station. Two weeks later, the mission of the space Shuttle sent into space and the Unity module, and the astronauts put it with “Dawn”.

From this moment on developing and, ultimately, the 420-ton station was the basis of US space policy and support for space exploration by human forces. Many space missions have been implemented for 20 years, but the station was permanent. And ten years just flies by.

Over the past 20 years, the station program helped to create valuable and long-term international cooperation between countries. NASA hopes to expand on the exploration of deep space. In recent years, the Agency also plays an important role in the development of commercial space flights.

20 years ago, NASA finally began to achieve notable success in the case of a successor to the space Shuttle — a small cruise ship known as the spacecraft X-38.

In March 1998, a large aircraft B-52 dropped the test apparatus of the X-38 from the height of 7000 meters. Opening the parachute, X-38 failed safely through the Earth’s atmosphere and fell to the runway. In subsequent years, followed by other, more successful trials.

“They were on a great path,” recalls Wayne Hale, who was then Director of space Shuttle flights, and later became Manager of the space Shuttle program. “They built a very capable spacecraft, which was not just a rescue. He could do a whole slew of things.”

Initially, X-38 was to serve as a “lifeboat” attached to the space station, which could return astronauts to Earth in case of emergency. However, this vehicle could also be converted into a spacecraft reusable, launched on private rockets. But it was not.

Space exploration: 2018

The disaster that has influenced the modern space program of NASA, happened just over 15 years ago when space Shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas in February 2003, returning to the Earth’s atmosphere. All seven astronauts died.

After this tragedy, the administration of George W. Bush sought to find a safe and sensible course for the future of NASA. In the end, the strategy was adopted, including the moon and International space station.

President Bush stated that NASA now is the time to expand its capabilities in deep space. Since Lunar Prospector hinted to wet the surface of the moon, the astronauts had to return to the moon to determine what resources there are. NASA should do more than touch the moon and learn to live on its surface. The Bush administration was planning a landing by 2020.

Meanwhile, the space Shuttle was to be used to complete construction of the space station, and then go for the cancellation. Aboard the station, NASA and its astronauts have learned to live for long periods of time and to test technologies such as restoration of water necessary for long-term space flights.

After the cancellation of the Shuttle, NASA had to find a way to deliver astronauts to the space station — was 2010 years. Just a few months before the tragedy of Columbia, NASA administrator Sean O’keefe canceled the X-38 for budgetary reasons. (NASA needed to find a billion dollars to close the hole in the budget). Thus, in an era when the Agency was looking for a replacement for the shuttles, he had to kill quite a convenient solution.

It was one of the most important decisions in the last 20 years for NASA and space flight in the USA. In 2008 the Agency started to Finance private companies to deliver cargo to the station, and two years later expanded the program to include flight crews into orbit. The shuttles replacement will be the capsules created by Boeing and SpaceX under the commercial crew program.

Date for the Agency at the same time full of hopes and anxieties. After Bush’s statements about returning to the moon in 2004, NASA has worked to achieve this goal. The Agency is likely to send people back in deep space, the moon, Mars or both of the body. Over the past 14 years, NASA and its contractors have built the spacecraft “Orion” and the giant SLS rocket to achieve these goals. Constancy of purpose — it’s convenient.

Anxiety arises precisely because NASA spent 14 years in the work on the implementation of the concept of deep space exploration, which Bush outlined in January 2014. The plan has varied with administrations, but even now the production of water resources on the moon is the Central agenda of NASA returning to the moon. The problem is that although NASA has spent billions of dollars on “systems development” since 2004, the lunar surface will be visited at least another ten years.

Fourteen years is a long time. This is two years longer the time that has passed between the launch of the first satellite into space and landing men on the moon. NASA may be moving steadily to deep space, but not particularly in a hurry.

Space exploration: 2038

In addition to the movement of the planets and short-term weather forecasts, to predict the future is almost impossible. But just as the roots of the current activities of NASA go into 1998, we can find hints about the future in today’s space exploration.

One of the clear signals is the desire of NASA to send astronauts beyond low-earth orbit for the first time since Apollo. President Bush has directed NASA to the lunar surface. President Obama sent on an asteroid and then to Mars. President trump would build a lunar station (Gateway) in front of the exploration of the moon and Mars. But movement in deep space there is not expected.

We’ll go there or not — this question will be addressed in the future. The reality is that due to the fact that NASA spent so much time and tens of billions of dollars for the development of Orion and SLS, the Agency has no funds for the development of any infrastructure needed for space exploration, including landers, power systems, habitats and more. You also need to make hard decisions and to take risks. To reach the surface of the moon, Phobos or Mars until 2038, NASA takes courage.

In the end, the big rocket NASA will be off the ground (the launch of the SLS is likely to take place in 2021). This will allow the Agency to allocate part of the funding for the real plans. Hale, who left NASA in 2010 and is now in the Advisory Board of the Agency, says he is full of hope, but not expectations.

“If it’s a government program, nothing will change. Everyone wants to have a space program, but do not want to spend a lot of money. So, you kind of have a budget, but it is not enough to do what you want.”

There are a few changing forces, which could push NASA from its inertial path. One of them is the revolution in private space sector, which the Agency helps to implement using commercial software for crew and cargo, issuing grants and entering into contracts. NASA can get new energy efficient products and ideas that will help explore the cosmos, thanks to SpaceX, Blue Origin, Bigelow Aerospace and other companies.

Historically, NASA was never interested in the development of launch systems-oriented price. (For example, NASA spends about $ 2 billion a year on the SLS rocket. For this money you could buy 20 Falcon Heavy launches). The Agency was instructed by the White house and Congress, something to do with people in space, but to do well and safely. NASA spends a lot of money to check, double and triple check their systems.

There is another way of thinking, is most promoted by SpaceX, but also share many new space companies, which says that the lower the cost of access to space, the more interesting things that can afford people in space. This approach has allowed SpaceX and Blue Origin to develop a reusable rocket. It is extremely important that both companies are supported by billionaires, is committed to fulfilling its plans. In 1998, this one could not imagine, but now NASA will probably be faster and cheaper to get where he wants, in deep space, using private companies.

The commercial sector also can destroy the plans of NASA, if private companies will find something really attractive to operate on orbit. Currently, space is the place where you can earn money only by using communications and remote control of satellites. In addition to these areas, the most private space companies are performing government contracts.

In the coming decades, mining asteroids could be profitable, but while talking about it early. However, it may be more short-term breakthrough in 3D printing of tissue in microgravity conditions — preliminary studies have been very promising. That is, from space can be established the flow of healthy hearts, lungs, kidneys or other organs. “Space rush” will quickly find a way to get to space and back, will accelerate the process and ruining it.

China could also force the U.S. government to accelerate the plans of NASA. Maybe China could move faster if he wanted, but now the authoritarian, the country intends to land a taikonaut on the lunar surface by 2030. China’s achievements can turn away from NASA, a number of international partners that will force the Agency to move.

However, there is no guarantee that the Chinese will be on the moon in 2030. The country’s economy could collapse. The government of XI Jinping, strongly support space, can be absorbed by internal Affairs. The country could force the issue in the South China sea and become an international pariah. Future is uncertain, as always.

Twenty years from now you will be twenty years older. What do you think, will the space closer to us? Tell us in our chat in Telegram.

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