Nasa reaches 50

Written by  //  July 31, 2008  //  Aviation & Aerospace, Science & Technology, U.S.  //  No comments

Nasa reaches 50 with pioneer spirit lost
By Clive Cookson
Media commentary on the 50th anniversary (dated either to July 29, when President Eisenhower signed the law setting up Nasa or October 1, when the agency formally started work) shows a widespread feeling that Nasa has been in decline for almost 40 years.

Nasa, the US space agency, is celebrating its 50th birthday this summer with an eclectic series of events. They range from air shows to gala dinners, from family picnics at Nasa centres to astronauts throwing ceremonial pitches at baseball games.
But sadly Nasa can offer no space spectacular to mark the anniversary of its formation in 1958 – in shocked response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite.
Yes, the Phoenix Lander is scratching around on the surface of Mars and may make an important discovery about the biochemistry of the red planet. Yes, more Shuttle launches are due, including a potentially perilous autumn mission to service the Hubble space telescope. But Nasa has little to offer in the near future that is likely to thrill the public. Forget about matching the excitement of the 1960s Apollo programme. There is nothing to match even the pioneering planetary missions such as the 1976 Viking landings on Mars and the Galileo spacecraft that orbited Jupiter in the 1990s.
Media commentary on the 50th anniversary (dated either to July 29, when President Eisenhower signed the law setting up Nasa or October 1, when the agency formally started work) shows a widespread feeling that Nasa has been in decline for almost 40 years.
Many enthusiasts agree with Michael Griffin, head of Nasa, that the Nixon administration should have followed the Apollo moon landings between 1969 and 1972 with a drive to send astronauts to Mars. Instead, manned spaceflight has been restricted to low Earth orbit, through the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. The ageing Shuttle fleet will retire in 2010, after a few more flights dedicated to lifting components up to the Space Station. For at least five years after that Nasa will depend on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry its astronauts into orbit, until the new US Constellation system – Orion crew vehicles launched by Ares rockets – is ready.
Constellation’s role will be to take Americans back to the moon to set up a lunar base and then on to Mars and, as Mr Griffin puts it, “worlds beyond”. The target date for Nasa’s lunar return is 2020, though many observers believe the agency will make every effort to put astronauts on the moon in 2019, the 50th anniversary of the original Apollo landing.
Nasa budget

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