Obama win keeps NASA's space plans on course
Washington: The re-election of US president Barack Obama could mean one small step back to the moon and a giant leap to landing astronauts on Mars and asteroids.
In 2010, the Obama administration set a goal to get astronauts to a near-Earth asteroid by 2025 and to Mars by the mid-2030s.
"We're going back to the moon, attempting a first-ever mission to send humans to an asteroid and actively developing a plan to take Americans to Mars," said National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) deputy chief Lori Garver at a conference in September.
And while Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney previously said he'd reassess NASA's future, experts say Obama's victory Tuesday means NASA will soon make major announcements surrounding future projects, that were uncertain under a Romney administration.
The new plans have likely been cleared with the Obama administration, but have been kept under wraps until after the presidential election, said space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University in an interview with Space.com, a space and astronomy news website.
According to reports, plans include NASA developing a huge rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS) and a crew capsule called Orion, to begin launching astronauts by 2021.
NASA has a $1.6 billion deal with SpaceX, a California-based private spaceflight company. In October, SpaceX successfully completed the first of 12 planned unmanned supply flights to the International Space Station.
Additional privatization of crew and cargo activities in low-Earth orbit could also be on the horizon, something experts say could fill the void left behind by the retirement of the space shuttle programme in 2011.
Over the past two years, NASA has awarded a total of $1.4 billion to private firms developing manned vehicles, reports say, with hopes of having two commercial spaceships up and running by 2017.
These planned space vehicles could help relieve US dependency on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which it currently relies on to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Before Obama began his first term as president, NASA was working to put astronauts back on the Moon by 2020 under a program called Constellation, but Obama cancelled the program after a review panel said it was over budget and behind schedule.
NASA officials have said they remain committed to returning to the moon, with the SLS and Orion projects serving as a possible way to get there.