April 5, 2020 – What’s Next for NASA

Let me pull out the old Ouija board.  No, to subjective.  How about tea leaves, taro, psychic, crystal ball?  All too subjective.  Ask the old Eight Ball?  It’s not subjective, but somewhat random.  Darn, there must be a way to predict our future for space exploration.

Committees!  Yes, that tried and true bureaucratic institution, the committee.  In my working life I was part of numerous decision-making committees and I tell you; it works.  Mostly.  Take a bunch of people, give them a goal and a deadline, and let the fun begin.

OK, it’s not all fun.  Often hard decisions have to be made, ones that will hurt someone or even a lot of people.  Space exploration is subject to the decisions of committees.  There are just so many great ideas and they need to fit the budget and satisfy scientific needs.  Let’s look at the process and what’s in the future for now.

NASA uses a process called the Decadal Survey.  Every 10 years a report is produced encompassing all the scientific goals for each of NASA’s four science divisions (Earth Science, Planetary Science, Heliophysics, and Astrophysics). It’s a really big deal, taking about four years of survey and research by the science community and the National Research Council.  Then the surveys are compiled, and a report written by sixteen committee members with recommendations regarding all the proposed science projects.  The report for the decade 2013-2022 just for Planetary Science is 398 pages!  The next decadal survey starts this year.

That’s the beginning.  The decadal survey report serves as the basis for science and budgetary committee decisions.  It is not mandatory to follow these recommendations, but it sure helps.  Let’s see what projects have made it past committee and are in the que for go.  Bear in mind it’s not a go until it’s done.  Missions can get cancelled even after approval.

James Web Space Telescope.  After years of delay it is getting close to launch.  JWST will examine the early universe at deep infrared wavelengths

Landsat 9 will detect changes in global land surfaces, monitoring the health of planet Earth

SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography) will do over water what Landsat 9 does over land

CYGNSS (Cyclone Global Navigation System) will produce information about a storm’s power and direction

Artemis is NASA’s return to lunar crewed missions, using the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, Gateway Lunar Command Module, launched by the Space Launch System rocket.   Artemis will develop permanent bases.  It is considered a rehearsal for a crewed mission to Mars.

Mars 2020 Rover will continue our robotic exploration of Mars, looking specifically for life or signs of past life

Europa Clipper will give detailed data about Europa and its potential for harboring life

What’s in the Sky?

April 6-11: pre-dawn; southeast:  Watch Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter mix it up

April 7; 09:35 pm CDT; east:  Full Moon at perigee, a little bigger than usual