NASA and the Future of Space Exploration



With the end of the Space Shuttle program, the Obama administration has laid the groundwork for its policy regarding the future of space exploration.  Join Active Minds for a look at the future of manned and robotic space travel at this pivotal juncture.  We will cover the future of the International Space Station as well as the debate over how to prioritize investing in NASA versus other pressing needs.

Key Lecture Points

  • Born in the Cold War, in the immediate aftermath of the successful Soviet launch of Sputnik, NASA enjoyed widespread American support (and funding) in the name of the military, intelligence, scientific and political advantages it provided.  In the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, however, and in the wake of a second lost Space Shuttle in 2003, NASA has struggled to maintain its Federal funding, particularly in the face of mounting national deficits.
  • After 30 years of service and 130 missions, the Space Shuttle was retired.  The last mission of the Space Shuttle took place on February 2011 with a final trip to the International Space Station (ISS). Since then, NASA has had to rely upon the Russian space agency to shuttle US astronauts to and from the ISS, at a cost of over $80 million per round trip. In January 2014, President Obama announced his support of extending the operational life of the ISS by four years to 2024.
  • In 2010, President Obama announced a significant change from the direction launched by President Bush in 2004.  President Obama’s proposed NASA budget remained at the same level as his predecessor, about $18 billion.  However, the administration oversaw a shift away from Bush’s proposed return to the moon. Instead, the target was now Mars in the 2030s.  In order to reach this goal, Obama announced that NASA would increase its utilization of private enterprise space exploration companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.
  • In November 2015, NASA announced contracts worth $6.6 billion with Boeing and SpaceX, to carry out manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS) in the hope of ending dependency on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for ferrying astronauts to the ISS.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the major differences between President Bush’s and President Obama’s space policies?
  • What are the pros and cons of manned space exploration?

Reflective Questions

  • What are your recollections of NASA from the Cold War? What do you recall about Sputnik or the moon landing?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Schmitt, Harrison. Return to the Moon: Exploration, Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space. Copernicus Books. 2006. 335 pages. Schmitt, a former astronaut, focuses on a return to the moon not just as a pursuit of technology and to establish the USA as the leader in space, but he also presents the Moon as a business proposition and the obstacles that will need to be overcome.
    Click here to order
  • Squyres, Steve. Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity and the Exploration of the Red Planet. Hyperion. 2005. 422 pages. A behind-the-scenes account of the journeys of “Spirit” and “Opportunity” to Mars and their search for life on the Red Planet.
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  • Gorn, Michael, H. and Buzz Aldrin. NASA: The Complete Illustrated History. Merrell Publishers. 2005. 304 pages. This book portrays the history of space exploration from the early twentieth century to the present.
    Click here to order