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What's Next For NASA?
September 4, 2013

"As a former astronaut and the current NASA Administrator, I'm here to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we have laid the foundation for success - and failure is not an option."

Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator
National Press Club, July 1, 2011

› View Speech Video | › Speech Text (82 KB PDF)

[image-12]NASA's missions, programs and projects are ensuring the United States will remain the world's leader in space exploration and scientific discovery for years to come, while making critical advances in aerospace, technology development and aeronautics. Here is what's next for NASA:

Exploration

NASA is designing and building capabilities to send humans farther into the solar system than ever before, including to an asteroid and Mars. On this Journey to Mars, NASA is developing the most advanced rocket and spacecraft ever designed. NASA's Orion spacecraft will carry four astronauts to missions beyond the moon, launched from Florida aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) -- an advanced heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth's orbit.

To help test other spaceflight capabilities to meet the goal of sending humans to Mars, including advanced propulsion and spacesuits, NASA is developing the Asteroid Redirect Mission first-ever mission to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the moon, where astronauts will explore it in the 2020s, returning with samples.

[image-78]International Space Station

The human Journey to Mars begins some 250 miles overhead, as astronauts aboard the International Space Station are working off the Earth for the Earth. The space station's microgravity environment makes research possible that can't be achieved on Earth, leading to breakthroughs in understanding Earth, space and physical and biological sciences.

By studying astronauts living in space for six months or more, NASA is learning how future crews can thrive on longer missions into the solar system, including round-trip journeys to an asteroid and Mars. The space station also is a test bed for exploration technologies like autonomous refueling of spacecraft, advanced life support systems and human/robotic interfaces.

A portion of the space station has been designated a national laboratory and NASA is committed to using this unique resource for wide-ranging scientific research. A new generation of U.S. commercial spacecraft and rockets are supplying cargo to the space station and soon launch astronauts once again from U.S. soil, allowing NASA to focus on building new capabilities for deep space exploration. As a blueprint for international cooperation, the space station enables a U.S.-led multinational partnership and advances shared goals in space exploration.

[image-94]Aeronautics

NASA is with you when you fly. Every U.S. aircraft and air traffic control tower has NASA-developed technology on board. The agency is helping transform aviation further by dramatically reducing its environmental impact, maintaining safety in more crowded skies, and paving the way to revolutionary aircraft shapes and propulsion.

NASA's aeronautics research also helps maintain U.S. leadership in aviation, which is a key economic driver for the nation, facilitating $1.5 trillion in economic activity each year, transportation of 17.7 billion tons of freight, and 11.5 million jobs.

From developing new air traffic management tools and designing quieter aircraft that fly at supersonic speeds, to writing innovative problem solving software that improves aviation safety, NASA's legacy of nearly a century of aviation research continues.

Technology

Technology drives exploration. On Earth and in space, NASA is developing, testing and flying transformative capabilities and cutting-edge technologies for a new future of human and robotic exploration. We take emerging technologies and mature them, delivering innovative solutions that can improve our capabilities to explore, save lives and create economic growth.

[image-126]To help humans reach an asteroid and Mars, we'll continue to evolve technologies like advanced solar electric propulsion, large-scale solar sails, new green propellants, and composite cryogenic storage tanks for refueling depots in orbit. These new space technologies will spawn new knowledge and capabilities to sustain our future missions.

Science

NASA is conducting an unprecedented array of missions that will seek new knowledge and understanding of Earth, the solar system and the universe.

We're studying Earth right now through current and future spacecraft helping answer critical challenges facing our planet: climate change, sea level rise, freshwater resources and extreme weather events. As an innovation leader in Earth and climate science, NASA is constantly expanding view of our planet from space, with an exceptional team of experts, and decades of innovative scientific and technical research.

[image-110]The first human footsteps on Mars will follow rover tracks. A fleet of robotic explorers already is on and around Mars, dramatically increasing our knowledge about the Red Planet. The planet once had conditions suitable for life, making it a rich destination for scientific discovery and robotic and human exploration as we expand our presence into the solar system. The formation of Mars and its evolution are comparable to Earth, helping us learn more about our own planet’s history and future. Future exploration could uncover evidence of life on Mars, answering one of the fundamental mysteries of the cosmos: Does life exist beyond Earth?

Multiple NASA missions are studying our sun and the solar system, unraveling mysteries about their origin and evolution. By understanding variations of the sun in real-time, we can better characterize space weather, which can impact exploration and technology on Earth.

NASA telescopes also are peering into the farthest reaches of the universe and back to its earliest moments of existence, helping us understand the universe's origin, evolution, and destiny.

It's an exciting time at NASA as we reach for new heights to reveal the unknown and benefit humankind. See a list of NASA's current missions and find out what we're launching next!

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Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space.
Artist's concept of the new Space Launch System rocket launching with the Orion spacecraft.
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NASA
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The International Space Station in May 2011.
The International Space Station in May 2011.
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NASA
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NASA is introducing a new blueprint for transforming global aviation.
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NASA
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The Juno mission will arrive at Jupiter in 2016.
The Juno mission will arrive at Jupiter in 2016
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NASA
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Artist's concept of solar electric propulsion for deep-space exploration.
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NASA
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Page Last Updated: November 20th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator