There are several contributing factors into the decline of the U.S. space
agency, though immediate fixes are not evident. Even though NASA has a
long string of success, the unfortunate shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003,
budget issues, and the looming 2010 retirement of the current generation of
space shuttles are all complicating matters.
"We spent many tens of billions of dollars during the Apollo era to
purchase a commanding lead in space over all nations on Earth," NASA
Administrator Michael Griffin said. "We've been living off the fruit
of that purchase for 40 years and have not ... chosen
to invest at a level that would preserve that commanding lead."
Although Russia has been a long-time competitor to NASA, the Chinese space
agency and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have continued to make
steady progress with its intended goals.
Along with multiple missions to Mars, China is preparing for stage two of a
three-part mission to the moon. The first step in the plan, which is
ongoing, included sending a satellite to orbit the moon. The second step
proposes launching a lunar lander before 2010, and the third step involves
collecting soil samples from the moon in the next 12 years.
The Chinese space program also has its first spacewalk scheduled for October. Griffin
admits China will likely beat the U.S. and other nations back to the moon.
India also has a developing space program that may not have the type of budget
of larger space programs, but the country still has had success launching
smaller missions that have shown good results. Its most recent success
was a satellite launch in which 10 satellites launched into orbit aboard one
The U.S. space agency does have its own mission outline for the next 12 years,
but may struggle to meet its goals if the Orion crew vehicle is not completed
on time in 2015.
NASA used to be responsible for sending other nations' satellites into orbit,
but now Russia, India, and China are the three main nations responsible for
helping Israel, Brazil, Singapore and the ESA launch satellites into space.