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Mars Exploration

NASA returns to Oregon for spacesuit testing before planned trip to moon


Story by Jes Burns

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Published on September 18, 2021 5:54 AM
 
 
Nearly 60 years ago, astronauts with the Apollo moon mission hiked around the lava beds of Central Oregon in their spacesuits for a real-world geology training course. NASA thought the volcanic formations in Oregon would be a good analog for what the astronauts would find on the surface of the moon.

Now researchers and engineers are planning for the space agency's next trip to the moon, and recently announced they were in Oregon once again last month testing new spacesuit technology.

As part of its Artemis Program, NASA aims to land a woman and person of color on the moon by the end of the decade. Artemis is considered preparation for a more-ambitious project to land humans on Mars.

"During the Apollo program we landed in… relatively flat areas. When we go back to the moon, now we're aiming for the lunar south pole," said SETI Institute planetary scientist Pascal Lee, who is director of the NASA Haughton-Mars Project.

The moon's south pole is much more rugged, with rocky hills and mountains. The geography makes several spots in Oregon ideal locations for testing.

"We were looking for new places, in a sense, to train astronauts so that they have not just the right type of rock to look at, but the right type of topography to roam around on and to hike and eventually to drive around as well," he said.

Lee said his project normally does its testing at...

BACKGROUND

NASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and space research. NASA was established in 1958, succeeding the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics . The new agency was to have a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space science. Since its establishment, most US space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo Moon landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System, Commercial Crew vehicles, and the planned Lunar Gateway space station. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program, which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for uncrewed NASA launches.

NASA's science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System; advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Research Program; exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic spacecraft such as New Horizons; and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs

Goals and directives

Some of NASA's main directives have been the landing of a crewed spacecraft on the Moon, the designing and construction of the Space Shuttle, and efforts to construct a large, crewed space station. Typically, the major directives originated from the intersection of scientific interest and advice, political interests, federal funding concerns, and the public interest, which all together brought varying waves of effort, often heavily swayed by technical developments, funding changes, and world events. For example, in the 1980s, the Reagan administration announced a directive with a major push to build a crewed space station, given the name Space Station Freedom. But, when the Cold War ended, Russia, the United States, and other international partners came together to design and build the International Space Station.

In the 2010s, major shifts in directives include the retirement of the Space Shuttle, and the later development of a new crewed heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. Missions for the new Space Launch System have varied, but overall, NASA's directives are similar to the Space Shuttle program as the primary goal and desire is human spaceflight. Additionally, NASA's Space Exploration Initiative of the 1980s opened new avenues of exploration focused on other galaxies. For the coming decades, NASA's focus has gradually shifting towards eventual exploration of Mars. One of the technological options focused on was the Asteroid Redirect Mission . ARM had largely been defunded in 2017, but the key technologies developed for ARM would be utilized for future exploration, notably on a solar electric propulsion system.

Longer project execution timelines leave future executive administration officials to execute on a directive, which can lead to directional mismanagement.

Previously, in the early 2000s, NASA worked towards a strategic plan called the Constellation Program, but the program was defunded in the early 2010s. In the 1990s, NASA's administration adopted an approach to planning coined 'Faster, Better, Cheaper'.

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