Technological Improvements And NASA

nasavirtualIt’s great to see that NASA has had such success lately with the arrival of the Juno spacecraft into the atmosphere of Jupiter.  It was met with much pomp and circumstance, although the actual “arrival” was a touch anticlimactic.

It’s interesting to look back and see where we thought we would be at this point in time.  Has technological advancement in terms of space travel slowed down?  Many think it has.  We need newer and more groundbreaking technologies in terms of energy and materials.  This excerpt from an article shows just how far we have come, however:

The combination of a shuttle and space station along with continued technological advances in such areas as data transmission and microprocessors plus the maturity of space-related science disciplines offer significant increases in our research capabilities during the 1990’s. The transition to the era of the space station will be complex and challenging. It will require bringing closer together NASA’s manned and unmanned programs, which had been only loosely coupled until the advent of the shuttle.

In this article, we will illustrate how these new capabilities could be used. Since we are in the design phase of the space station project, it is crucial that scientists in different disciplines consider how they might best use the planned research facilities. To put this future in perspective, we will begin with a survey of the current U.S. program for space science. The Current Program

Voyager II will explore Uranus and Neptune. The Galileo mission will send probes into the Jovian atmosphere, which will provide long-term synoptic observations of the Jovian cloud system, its moons, and its extended magnetosphere. The Venus Radar Mapper, with its synthetic aperture radar, will look through the thick clouds of Venus and map the topology of that planet, and the Mars Geochemistry and Climatology Orbiter will survey the global distribution of the elements on the Martian surface and record the climatic changes over a Martian year. Subsequent planetary exploration will focus on extended detailed studies of cometary nuclei and representative asteroids, and further study of the Saturian system, including Titan, is also under consideration.

In earth science, research satellites such as Nimbus 7, the Solar Mesophere Explorer, and the International Sun Earth Explorers will continue to provide data along with meterological and land satellites. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite will provide data on the stratosphere to determine how the chemical, dynamic, and radiative processes of this region determine the structure of the ozone layer. The Ocean Topography experiment together with a new research scatterometer will provide observations of the large-scale circulation of the oceans and their response to the atmospheric winds.

Our understanding of solar and terrestrial physics will be advanced by the three dimensional exploration of the heliosphere by the International Solar Polar mission, a joint effort with the European Space Agency. In the planning phases is an International Solar Terrestrial Physics program to better understand the sun and its coupling to the earth’s magnetosphere and upper atmosphere. In the astrophysics area truly dramatic advances are expected. The combination of missions now planned includes the Space Telescope, the Cosmic Background Explorer, the Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer, and the Gamma Ray Observatory, along with the development of a new generation of observing instruments on shuttle Spacelab flights and major new observatories such as the Advanced X-Ray Facility and the Space Infrared Telescope Facility. These missions should provide an unprecedented increase in astrophysical knowledge.

In the near term, however, the most valuable elements of the current NASA program are the 17 active scientific satellites returning data to investigators. These missions are the sources of the results presented at meetings and published in the journals, and they maintain the vitality and productivity of our space science program.

On the one hand the U.S. space science program is in a well-balanced state with a level of financial support well above that of Western Europe, Japan or the U.S.S.R. However, there has been a long-term change toward sustained observations from larger, more complex, longer-lived observatories and planetary orbiters. This evolution has occurred as the exploratory phase of space research has been completed. These programmatic changes, as well as drop in the level of financial support (Fig. 2), have led to a dramatic decrease in the number of launches of science missions from an average of six per year in the late 1960’s to 1.5 per year in the 1980’s. The changes in funding for space science are complex with the large peaks from 1964 to 1966 and from 1972 to 1975 caused primarily by transient increases in the planetary program. Decreases in flight programs and funding since 1965 have forced dramatic reductions in many space research groups.”

Frost, Kenneth J., and Frank B. McDonald. “Space research in the era of the space station.” Science 226 (1984): 1381+.


What do you think?  Do you think that because we aren’t in a “space race” anymore as we were in the 60s-80s that we have slowed down in terms of groundbreaking tech and innovations?