There is a lot of discussion on whether the US can afford to be in the space business. After all it costs something in the range of $4 billion to maintain the International Space Station.
It cost $1.7 billion to build a space shuttle back in the day. The Space station’s building it and running costs have a price tag of $160 billion. But that bill is divided by all tenants – the Big Four (United States, Russia, Canada, Japan) plus 10 other European nations. Some estimates put the US portion at $3 billion a year.
NASA which is now focused heavily on research, is committed to supporting the space station until 2024, which is about six years ahead of when it expects to have a Mars mission ready. NASA has always had a research bent, since its inception as ‘NACA’ which was called a Research Laboratory.
Exploring another planet may seem a luxury, considering that our tax dollars are being used for other urgent matters at hand – healthcare, infrastructure, etc But the ongoing work in planning for a trip to the red planet is in and of itself an endeavor that helps scientists and engineers push the boundaries of science and technology. Take for instance the ‘lab work’ going on in the continuous study of humans in Mars-like habitats on an Island of Hawaii. Or hundreds of experiments being done in space (on the Space Station) on cellular biology, remote sensing, micro-biology, seed growth, and micro-gravity.
The latter two, are some of the dozen science projects from students, who would one day diversify, and spearhead various fields we have not even heard of today. Mission 12, will accept experiments from Grades 5 to 16, for their experiment to be included on a flight to the International Space Station in September this year.
Perhaps it is this scientific thrust, and the work of an emerging cadre of scientists who would make NASA great again!