Controversy seems to surround this topic. President George W. Bush seems to favor discontinuing the Space Shuttle and the Hubble Telescope in favor of a permanent base on the moon and manned missions to Mars. Others believe that this course of action would be too ambitious and costly. Here are some of the current ongoing space missions and hints to possible future missions.
The constuction of the International Space Station began with the launch of the first element, the Russian Zarya Control Module, on Nov. 20, 1998. Construction will require 43 space flights with three different types of launch vehicles. Completion is scheduled for approximately 2006. When the International Space Station is complete, it will have a mass of almost 1 million pounds, be larger than a five-bedroom house and measure 361 feet end-to-end.
The first crew, Commander Bill Shepherd, a U.S. astronaut; Soyuz Commander Yuri Gidzenko, a Russian cosmonaut, and Flight Engineer Sergei Krikalev, a Russian cosmonaut, was launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to begin permanent human habitation of the station in October 2000. From that point on, it has been permanently staffed. The International Space Station draws upon the resources and the scientific and technological expertise of 16 cooperating nations, including the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia and 11 participating member nations of the European Space Agency, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In addition, Brazil and Italy have signed on as payload participants.
The International Space Station orbits at an average altitude of 354 kilometers (220 miles) at an inclination of 51.6 degrees to the equator. Non-recyclable items are put on either a Russian return vehicle, which will totally disintegrate re-entering Earth's atmosphere, or one of our shuttles, which brings it all the way back to Earth for disposal.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan gave the station its original name, Freedom. In the years that followed, Space Station Freedom's design underwent modifications with each annual budget cycle as Congress called for its cost to be reduced. In 1993, President Bill Clinton called for the station to be redesigned once again to reduce costs and include more international involvement. To stimulate innovation, teams from different NASA centers competed to develop three distinct station redesign options. The White House selected the option dubbed Alpha. After the Russians agreed to supply major hardware elements, many originally intended for their Mir 2 space station program, the station became known as the International Space Station.
The Hubble Telescope has provided the most amazingly detailed pictures of space ever taken. It is a space-based telescope that was launched in 1990 from the space shuttle. From its position 380 miles above the Earth’s surface, it has recorded over 200,000 images in the past fourteen years. The telescope’s instruments include the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer, Advanced Camera for Surveys, and Fine Guidance Sensors.
When first launched, the Hubble's primary mirror was out of shape on the edges by 1/50 of a human hair. This very small defect made it difficult to focus faint objects being viewed by the Hubble. Because the Hubble is in low Earth orbit, it could be serviced by a shuttle. The defect was corrected during a service mission. The Hubble received eight service missions and will not be serviced again until it is retrieved in 2010.
Pointing the Hubble Space Telescope and locking onto distant celestial targets is like holding a laser light steady on a dime that is 400 miles away. The Hubble Space Telescope whirls around Earth at a speed of five miles per second. Each day, it collects enough data to fill an encyclopedia. Images and data collected by the telescope travel 90,000 miles over satellite and ground links before they reach the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Engineers designed Hubble with servicing in mind. The telescope is equipped with 31 foot restraints and 225 feet of handrails.
Taking color pictures with the Hubble Space Telescope is much more complex than taking color pictures with a traditional camera. For one thing, Hubble doesn't use color film — in fact, it doesn't use film at all. Instead, its cameras record light from the universe with special electronic detectors. These detectors produce images of space not in color, but in shades of black and white. Finished color images are actually combinations of two or more black-and-white exposures to which color has been added during image processing. The colors in Hubble images, which are assigned for various reasons, aren't always what we'd see if we were able to visit the imaged objects in a spacecraft. We often use color as a tool, whether it is to enhance an object's detail or to visualize what ordinarily could never be seen by the human eye. Color in Hubble images is used to highlight interesting features of the celestial object being studied. It is added to the separate black-and-white exposures that are combined to make the final image. Creating color images out of the original black-and-white exposures is equal parts art and science.
Light from astronomical objects comes in a wide range of colors, each corresponding to a particular kind of electromagnetic wave. Hubble can detect all the visible wavelengths of light plus many more that are invisible to human eyes, such as ultraviolet and infrared light. Astronomical objects often look different in these different wavelengths of light. To record what an object looks like at a certain wavelength, Hubble uses special filters that allow only a certain range of light wavelengths through. Once the unwanted light has been filtered out, the remaining light is recorded. Hubble's many filters allow it to record images in a variety of wavelengths of light. Since the cameras can detect light outside the visible light spectrum, the use of filters allows scientists to study "invisible" features of objects — those only visible in ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. Many full-color Hubble images are combinations of three separate exposures — one each taken in red, green, and blue light. When mixed together, these three colors of light can simulate almost any color of light that is visible to human eyes. That’s how televisions, computer monitors, and video cameras recreate colors.
The Hubble Space Telescope was named after astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble, who was born in Marshfield, Missouri. In 1910 he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and studied law under a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University. Later he changed his mind and completed his Ph.D. in astronomy at Chicago's Yerkes Observatory in 1917. Edwin Hubble revolutionized cosmology by proving that the clouds of light astronomers saw in the night sky were actually other galaxies beyond our Milky Way. His greatest discovery was in 1929, when he identified the relationship between a galaxy's distance and the speed with which it is moving. The farther a galaxy is from Earth, the faster it is moving away from us. This is known as Hubble's Law. He also constructed a method of classifying the different shapes of galaxies.
Supposedly, the Hubble Telescope will be replaced with a more advanced model sometime in the next decade.
Is there life on Mars? Was there ever life on Mars? The latest probes to be sent to the red planet are trying to find the answer to that and other questions. NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission has sent two robotic rovers to the surface of Mars.
The two separate spacecraft are exploring sites on opposite sides of Mars. One rover is exploring Gusev Crater. The other rover is exploring Meridiani Planum. Scientists think there is a good chance that there was water at each of these sites in the past. Places that have or had water are the best places to look for signs of life.
The rovers have special instruments to look for signs of water. The twin rover missions were launched in June and July of 2003. They made it to Mars in January 2004. The two rovers have been given names. The first is named "Spirit" and the second is called "Opportunity".
Finding water on Mars would make it easier for humans to travel there and perhaps even set up a long-term colony there.