NASA’s Moon exploration program has already been cancelled by Obama.
Even though space shuttle launches are grinding to a halt, the International Space Station will continue to orbit around Earth and remain there up to the year 2020.
It is certain that commercial rocket companies will have a go at the pie for ferrying services to the space station thereafter. Right now NASA is using the services of Russia’s Soyuz rockets. That’s how the U.S. astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson got to the space station on Sunday, two days after being launched from Kazakhstan.
Apart from the usual experiments the crew will attend to the replenishing of supplies to International Space Station for over two weeks to ready it last up to the year 2020. The astronauts will install a fresh ammonia tank for the cooling system — a cumbersome job requiring three spacewalks. They also will drop off science experiments as well as an extra sleeping compartment, a darkroom to improve picture-taking from the lab's high-quality window, and other equipment totaling thousands of pounds.
There are six astronauts already in the space station to be joined by the discovery team of seven. In Toto, 8 Americans, 3 Russians and 2 Japanese will be in the space together.
The shuttle mission’s tenure will coincide with the 29th anniversary of space shuttle’s inaugural flight on April 12, 1981.
A problem surfaced during the launch of the shuttle. Three small pieces of insulating foam flew off Discovery's fuel tank. This was noticed by the NASA officials too late and was considered not an immediate safety concern. The launch went ahead with this minor problem. The astronauts will survey their ship on Tuesday to fix this problem.
Hopefully, the mission will complete its task successfully and come back to earth as scheduled.
(Author is a popular science and science fiction writer. Also the Regional Editor of www.kalkion.com)