The Space Shuttle Program is almost finished. What will replace it? NASA is developing new space craft and booster rockets to replace the Space Shuttle. The new space craft will be used to send astronauts back to the moon and Mars. NASA believes that John F. Kennedy’s original goal to land on the moon by 1969 motivated the space team to overcome almost impossible odds. The goal to go to Mars is expected to achieve similar results on a limited space exploration budget. The new space craft and mission is called the Constellation Program. All components will be retrievable, but special landing fields will no longer be necessary.
NASA’s goals may seem impossible with the current budget, but China’s space goals will keep the United States in the space race just as Russia’s Sputnik orbit turned the nation’s attention to better science and math education in the public schools and to a goal to land on the moon by 1969.
The new space craft/ crew capsule is called the Orion. There will be two new booster rockets, Ares I and Ares 2. Ares 1 will launch the astronauts into space. Ares 2 will launch the cargo into space. Launching the astronauts and cargo separately should make space travel safer and take less rocket fuel. NASA is also developing an Altair Lunar Lander for the return to the moon. The Orion is expected to dock at the International Space Station by 2015; the Orion is expected to land on the moon by 2020.
NASA is also participating in the X Prize competition realizing that innovation is driven by competition. The X Prize results in new design at low cost. The Space Ship One is an X Prize winner that will fly civilians into space by 2011. The current X Prize competition is a lunar lander design contest.
Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral was transferred from the Space Shuttle Program to the Constellation Program when the Space Shuttle Endeavour was moved to Launch Pad 39A. Launch Pad 39B was originally built for the Saturn V rockets to launch Apollo space capsules to the moon. The Space Shuttle Challenger was launched from Launch Pad 39B in 1986 after it was modified to support the Space Shuttle operations.
The Ares 1 prototype completed a successful flight test October 28, 2009. The entire first flight for the Ares 1 lasted six minutes. NASA’s new Constellation Program established in 2005 met its first milestone with the Ares 1 test flight.