The launching of the first artificial Earth satellite by the Soviet Union shocked the population of the United States. A nation that was the most advanced in science and technology was shocked by the fact that its main rival was ahead. The United States accepted this challenge with the dignity of a great nation (Britton, 2005).
The starting point in the history of NASA was October 1, 1958. Its main task was to investigate the problem of flights in and out of the Earth's atmosphere. At that time, the organization included 8,000 employees and had a modest budget of $ 100 million. Almost immediately NASA started the work on large projects. From the very beginning its task was to develop grand programs for manned flights to the Moon, the exploration of Mars, Venus, Saturn and other planets in the solar system. There was a great space race between the USSR and the USA for the first man out of the ship into space, for the first woman astronaut, for a record for the duration of the flight, for the first pictures of the Moon, and nearby planets.
America took 11 years and 25.4 billion dollars to the landing on the Moon to prove its leadership in space exploration. In the first half of the 70s, NASA carried out several successful missions to the Moon. NASA also held a joint project with the Soviet Union for docking two spacecraft "Apollo" (USA) and "Union" (USSR) (Anderson, 2002).
NASA organization is a large network of research laboratories and aerospace centres. Each branch carries out its tasks, and to share information, they are united by means of multiple internal networks: NCTN, NISN, ALLSTAR, NREN, and DSN. NASA headquarter is located in Washington, DC and holds about a thousand of employees. The main task is to coordinate NASA in general and monitor the development of four strategic areas: the exploration of space, the study of Earth, the work with people, and the development of new technologies to further projects. Total number of employees reaches 90 thousand of people, including 94 astronauts. California Research Center AMES is one of the oldest in NASA. It was built in 1939 and named after the first Director Dr. Joseph S. Ames. AMES centre develops and creates the most advanced technologies, including informational and scientific as well as all kinds of researches (Anderson, 2002).
To conduct various studies and projects, the U.S. government annually allocates NASA about $15 billion. These funds are distributed in different areas:
- Space science (the study of the solar system, Mars and the Moon, the study of the history of the universe, its structure and evolution, the study of interactions between the Sun and the Earth, the search for natural satellites of distant planets and extra-terrestrial life).
- Earth Science (various studies of the planet, including the impact on the environment and its consequences).
- Research in the field of biology and physics (molecular biology, nanotechnology, and nuclear physics).
- Astronautics (development of faster, more secure, efficient and reliable machines for air and space travel).
- Educational programs (training of astronauts and technicians, training of new staff, the involvement of pupils and students in the scientific field).
- Research System (human and robot technology, transportation systems).
- Space flights (International Space Station, space shuttles, support for space travel) (Bromberg, 2000).
Ultra-fast communication systems are developing in the laboratories of NASA. They are based on a laser beam. With their help, it will be possible to transfer large amounts of data for a few minutes’ insight into the solar system. New kinds of engines and methods of transportation are designing. NASA projects inspire thousands of independent scientists to participate in the cosmic progress.
The main achievements of NASA are not only scientific discoveries that expand our knowledge of the planets, the solar system and the universe. The main thing is that the latest and advanced technologies developed in the walls of the organization do not remain a secret. NASA publishes a monthly free magazine of its latest developments and circulates it to all people. These designs and finished models are proposed for implementation to all U.S. firms.
NASA specified details of the new lunar program, which should be a priority for the near future. NASA announced plans to build an international station on the Moon. Flights are expected to resume in 2020. The project will not be limited with short expeditions. A permanent base will be built on the Moon in 2024. Previously, astronauts flew to the areas near the lunar equator, but now the place will be selected on one of the poles of the Moon. The expedition will be necessary to prepare the storage terminal for themission to Mars. The agency does not forget about helium-3. It is a unique fuel that was found on the surface of the Moon.
The exact location, where a permanent lunar base will be built, was not determined yet. However, most likely, the base will be one of the two selected sites on the South Pole of the Earth satellite. The South Pole is better illuminated by the Sun, which will greatly facilitate the development of electricity. Moreover, there are some mineral deposits next to the proposed place of the base unit, including ice that can provide the station with water.
In 2020 the expedition of four astronauts will be on the Moon, who, in particular, will build a permanent base. The first four years of the arrangement of a lunar base, according to NASA, astronauts will be on the station not more than a week, but since 2024 the expedition members will be able to carry on the lunar surface for up to six months.
NASA plans that the lunar base will be an international project, and in the long term, the station will receive not only scientific expeditions, but also space tourists. According to the manual of NASA, the invitation to participate in the project of a lunar base was already made to U.S. partners on the international space station - Russia, the EU and Japan.
It is assumed that the base will be built at one of the lunar poles to 2024. It should be a place of researching and testing of new technologies in the aerospace field. In addition, the base may be used as a kind of staging post for sending a future mission to Mars.
However, a number of experts think the initiative to build the base on the natural satellite of our planet to be thoughtless waste of money. Some people believe that the funds should be better spend on other, higher-priority projects. A limited budget of a lunar base will lead to suspension of missions to Mars of unmanned vehicles of the new generation for a long time.
At the same time, some other experts have the opposite opinions. They claim that the base on the Moon will help practice skills on other planets, and understand what kind of problems astronauts might encounter when flying to Mars. However, it is unlikely that a manned mission to Mars will be implemented prior to 2030 (Carroll, 2009).