The future of human spaceflight


Over recent weeks, officials from NASA have been petitioning the United States Congress in an attempt to ensure continued funding for the agency. Over the next few decades NASA hope to lead the way in the evoulution of human space flight. Here are the top five manned missions NASA are currently working on.

Asteroid retrieval

The next major mission in NASA’s human spaceflight programme will be an expedition to an asteroid, currently being planned for as early as 2021. The agency hopes to manoeuvre an asteroid into a stable lunar orbit and then send astronauts to its surface. The mission will help NASA test technology for future deep space missions, including the Orion spacecraft.



The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle will carry crew and cargo into low-Earth orbit and beyond. On 8 April 2014 the system was put through ground tests, ahead of a trial unmanned flight later in the year. 

When Orion is fully functional, NASA will once again be capable of transporting people and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), something it hasn’t been able to do since the Space Shuttle retired in 2011.

Credit: NASA/Bill Stafford

Extended ISS mission

In January 2014 it was announced that NASA would extend its funding for the ISS until at least 2024. The ISS is an important proving ground for the technology needed for long distance space travel, testing everything from medical equipment to robotic astronauts. The next supply launch will include a new expandable greenhouse, called Veggie, that will allow astronauts to grow their own fresh food, helping to keep a crew healthy during long haul missions which may last for months, or even years.

Credit: NASA/Gioia Massa

Year long space flight

In 2015, veteran astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will launch to the ISS, ready for a yearlong stay. It will be the longest time anyone has spent onboard the ISS in one go, and the pair will help to test the physiological and psychological effects of such an ordeal on the human body. ISS astronauts usually stay for six months and have suffered problems with vision as well as muscle and bone loss. At present, it's uncertain how these issues worsen over time. If NASA is ever going to mount long scale missions, such as to Mars, then it’s important that these issues are well understood.

Credit: NASA

Path to Mars

One of NASA’s long-term plans is to put people on the surface of Mars. The ISS experiments are the first stage of this plan, examining how the human body and technology copes with the demands of space.

The asteroid missions will be the second stage. Lasting anywhere from weeks to years, these missions will have to be completely self sufficient, as they will be too far out to rely on Earth for supplies. As they will be outside Earth’s magnetic field, it will also show the effects of long-term exposure to solar radiation.

The third and final stage is to send people to Mars. To get there and back will take at least two years, with no hope of back up from Earth. Before mounting such a mission NASA has to be sure it can keep its crew alive and healthy. But if everything goes according to plan, the first astronauts should get to the Red Planet by the 2030s.

Credit: NASA/Pat Rawlings/SAIC


Like this article? Why not:
NexStar Evolution unveiled by Celestron at NEAF 2014
previous news Article
Riddle of exoplanets around 55 Cancri solved
next news Article
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here