Ways to explore space
Humanity's interest in the heavens has been universal and enduring. Humans are driven to explore the unknown, discover new worlds, push the boundaries of our scientific and technical limits, and then push further. The intangible desire to explore and challenge the boundaries of what we know and where we have been has provided benefits to our society for centuries.
Human space exploration helps to address fundamental questions about our place in the Universe and the history of our solar system. Through addressing the challenges related to human space exploration we expand technology, create new industries, and help to foster a peaceful connection with other nations. Curiosity and exploration are vital to the human spirit and accepting the challenge of going deeper into space will invite the citizens of the world today and the generations of tomorrow to join NASA on this exciting journey.
A Flexible Path
This is the beginning of a new era in space exploration in which NASA has been challenged to develop systems and capabilities required to explore beyond low-Earth orbit, including destinations such as translunar space, near-Earth asteroids and eventually Mars.
NASA will use the International Space Station as a test-bed and stepping stone for the challenging journey ahead. By building upon what we learn there we will prepare astronauts for the challenges of long-duration flight and the permanent expansion of human exploration beyond where we have been before. Explorers may visit near-Earth asteroids where we may get answers to the questions humans have always asked. Visiting an asteroid will provide valuable mission experience and prepare us for the next steps–possibly for the first humans to step on Mars.
Robotic exploration continues to deliver profound answers about our Universe by visiting far-off destinations, providing reconnaissance and collecting scientific data. When combining both human and robotic exploration methods we will use technology and our senses to increase our ability to observe, adapt, and uncover new knowledge.
Why the International Space Station?
The first step in embarking on a long and challenging journey involves laying solid groundwork for a successful endeavor. The International Space Station serves as a national laboratory for human health, biological, and materials research, as a technology test-bed, and as a stepping stone for going further into the solar system. On the International Space Station we will improve and learn new ways to ensure astronauts are safe, healthy and productive while exploring, and we will continue expand our knowledge about how materials and biological systems behave outside of the influence of gravity.
NASA will continue its unprecedented work with the commercial industry and expand an entire industry as private companies develop and operate safe, reliable and affordable commercial systems to transport crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station and low Earth orbit.