Welcome to your weekly Intelligence Brief… in this installment, as NASA has unveiled big plans for the future of its operations we’ll be taking a look at 1) the recent announcement of two brand new NASA mission directorates, 2) what they mean for the future of lunar and Mars exploration, as well as 3) how they will affect the International Space Station. Then 4) tying it all together, we’ll look at what this means for the American space agency going forward, and lastly, 5) NASA’s search for the unknown, and what that might entail in the decades ahead.
And now, it’s time we get the complete scoop on a series of big announcements made by NASA in recent days, which detail its plans going forward over the course of the next two decades.
NASA Announces ITs New Directorates
Earlier this week, NASA unveiled its plans for the future with a pair of new mission directorates, setting the pace for how the American space agency will operate for the next two decades.
The plans were detailed on Tuesday during an online media teleconference, following an announcement earlier that morning by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson regarding the agency’s goals for the years ahead.
According to a statement on the agency’s website, the new plans will divide NASA’s current Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate into a pair of separate operations, the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and Space Operations Mission Directorate.
The statement said the changes are being instituted “because of increasing space operations in low-Earth orbit and development programs well underway for deep space exploration, including Artemis missions.”
Accompanying the news was a promotional video uploaded to NASA’s YouTube channel the same day, which emphasized NASA’s future efforts “will continue to be a story of human exploration, science, engineering and technology,” along with its aim to “achieve the impossible and discover the unknown.”
The Moon, Mars, and Beyond
According to Tuesday’s press statements, the pair of newly announced mission directorates will place heavy emphasis on NASA’s future studies involving the Moon and Mars, which the agency plans to “approach from different ends of the spaceflight continuum.”
It was also announced that Jim Free will be returning to NASA to perform the role of associate administrator of the new ESDMD. Free’s past positions at NASA included assignments such as liaison at the International Space Station’s Fluids and Combustion Facility (FCF), along with positions that included launch vehicle manager and autonomous rendezvous and docking manager for the Prometheus Spacecraft.
“Working hand-in-hand with our colleagues in Space Operations, we will focus on ensuring the success of Artemis missions in the near term while charting a clearly defined path for human exploration of Mars as our horizon goal,” Free said on Tuesday.
The International Space Station is Still Obsolete
In the Tuesday morning statement, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson explained that part of NASA’s decision to divide the agency’s current Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate into separate entities involves the ongoing use of the International Space Station by NASA’s commercial partners.
“This reorganization positions NASA and the United States for success as we venture farther out into the cosmos than ever before,” Nelson said, “all while supporting the continued commercialization of space and research on the International Space Station.”
While the International Space Station (ISS) has maintained its operations with international and now also commercial partners, NASA has gradually been working for years to help facilitate the conclusion of its use of the ISS. According to a recent CNBC report, by the end of this decade, NASA will likely retire the ISS, paving the way for its commercial partners to build more state-of-the-art orbital facilities that will not only improve operations but also save money in the long term.
For the remainder of its period in use, International Space Station activities will fall under the new Space Operations Mission Directorate, for which Kathy Lueders will serve as associate administrator.
“The space station is the cornerstone of our human spaceflight efforts,” Lueders said on Tuesday, adding that “the commercial crew and cargo systems that support the microgravity laboratory are the building blocks to our continued success.”
“We’ll work closely across mission directorates to achieve even greater successes to come, including expanding the low-Earth orbit economy, launching our state-of-the-art science missions, and getting ready for future operations at the Moon and Mars,” Lueders added.
Along with overseeing ISS operations, the new directorate will also focus on other areas having to do with commercial entities operating in space, as well as sustainable operations on or the Moon or in lunar orbit.
Changes in the Days to Come
With its newly announced plans for its operations in the coming decades, during Tuesday’s announcements, the agency also emphasized that no major changes to primary roles or missions were expected to occur, although its ambitious plans to put humans on the Red Planet appear to be moving forward unhindered.
NASA is expected to institute the announced changes in the weeks and months ahead, both implementing the new mission directorates while maintaining its current ongoing operations, which includes preparation for the forthcoming Artemis missions, which aim to place the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.
Employing innovative technologies that will provide more detailed information about the Moon than past missions have been able to gather, NASA plans to collaborate with its commercial partners for the missions “and establish the first long-term presence on the Moon,” in addition to finally sending humans to Mars.
“NASA’s future will continue to be a story of human exploration, science, engineering and technology,” the agency said in a press statement.
“Working together, we define the future, achieve the impossible and discover the unknown.”
NASA AND THE Quest For the Unknown
A quick final note about NASA’s mission to discover the unknown may be in order here. Since its inception, a large part of NASA’s work has involved the inevitable mystery that accompanies space exploration. As humankind moves further out into the cosmos, the likelihood that we may discover alien life forms–possibly even intelligent ones–is increasingly becoming a potential reality.
“To date, NASA has yet to find any credible evidence of extraterrestrial life,” the page reads, though it adds that the space agency “has long been exploring the solar system and beyond to help us answer fundamental questions, including whether we are alone in the universe.
“While NASA doesn’t actively search for UAPs, if we learn of UAPs, it would open up the door to new science questions to explore,” the FAQ page reads. “Atmospheric scientists, aerospace experts, and other scientists could all contribute to understanding the nature of the phenomenon.”
“Exploring the unknown in space is at the heart of who we are,” the NASA FAQ on UAP concludes. While the study of UAP may not be something NASA is actively involved with, it certainly appears to fall well within what the agency considers part of its fundamental mission: to explore space and expand humanity’s knowledge of all of the unknown aspects of our existence.