Our Earth is just a small droplet of water in the unending ocean of galaxies. The outer world still continues to astonish us with its fathomless mystery even after millions of years of human existence. The mythological mentions of aliens and the UFO sightings continue to fascinate us. We are striving hard to discover extra –terrestrial life forms to solve the mystery of life and other unsolved questions. This quest for answers has been going on since time immemorial and with advances in technology this search has grown by leaps and bounds.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, popularly known as NASA, is a Unites States Government agency whose mission statement is to “pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research”. After successfully stepping foot on the Moon, preparations are being carried out to send a manned flight to the Mars, which has already been extensively mapped and scientifically explored by various unmanned rovers and space satellites. Following is the list of the NASA’s manned programs:
1. X-15 rocket plane (1959–68)
2. Project Mercury (1959–63)
3. Project Gemini (1961–66)
4. Project Apollo (1961–72)
5. Skylab (1965–79)
6. Space Shuttle program (1972–2011)
7. Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (1972-75)
8. International Space Station (1998–present)
9. Unnamed BLEO program (2010–present)
The International Space Station (ISS), a habitable space satellite in Earth’s orbit, was launched in orbit in 1998 to serve as a laboratory, observatory and factory in space. After successful human habitations at Salyut, Almaz, Skylab and Mir stations, it is the ninth space station to be inhabited. It is supposed to act as a staging base for upcoming future missions to Moon, Mars and other heavenly bodies and it can be utilized for commercial and educational applications. In fact the scientific research conducted here cannot be done elsewhere as it serves as an ideal platform for zero gravity and offers long term environment which can be studied and researched for many years. The ISS program is further classified into Commercial Resupply Services (2006 – present) and Commercial Crew Program (2010 – present).
The International Space Station has been visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations and it continues to be occupied for the last 12 years. The ISS program has been planned to run till 2020 but it is quite possible that it will run upto 2028 or even beyond that. The rapidly evolving technological advances and the eagerness of finding alien life forms has paved the way for a robust space exploration and the day is not far when space travelling will become a reality for common man.