NASA Grants Pave Way To The Future

After the recent retiring of the space shuttle program many people wondered if the United States would seed its space dominance to upstarts China and India.  But what originally seemed like a giant step back in the American space program is beginning to seem like the closing of one era and the dawning of a new one.   A couple of recent NASA grants show that the world’s foremost space agency is not looking to rest on its laurels while other countries pull ahead.  Instead NASA’s support of recent projects – such as a $100,000 for a supersonic jet, and $440 million in grants for Space X – show that NASA is not ready to get out of the space game just yet.

One recent project to draw NASA funding is a supersonic jet – the design for which had been lobbied by Gecheng Zha from the University of Miami.  The idea behind the jet is that as a plane travels faster, large wings increase drag– which works against the plane’s acceleration.  The grant winning jet design will actually begin flight in the normal mode, then change position by a factor of 90 degrees once in the air.  The design was awarded a grant of $100,000 and has been said to produce “virtually zero sonic boom” as the jet breaks the sound barrier.

But the supersonic jet is not really space exploration, is it?  For all the true space exploration fans, the good news is that NASA has served up a whopping $440 million to the private space exploration company Space X – which was founded by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk – who is also behind Tesla Motors.  This was part of a larger announcement of $1.1 billion in grants – with $460 going to Boeing and $213 going to Sierra Nevada Corp.

This is huge news for American space exploration, and space exploration in general.  NASA is putting its money where its mouth is and helping to open space to not just highly trained astronauts, but, as according to the Space X mission, to the general public.  In May 2012 Space X became the first privately owned company to dock with the international space station – when its Dragon Capsule linked up with the orbiting laboratory.   NASA is clearly signaling that it intends to play the role of facilitator, to help further space exploration, while still spearheading such missions as unmanned missions to Mars.

Far from being the end of the American space program, the retiring of the space shuttle fleet may be viewed more as the beginning of the end of space being just a government enterprise.  With the recent grant by NASA, it is becoming more clear that space will be opened up to all of us, from the individual investor, to the individual traveler.  But, NASA is not just focused on space.  They continue to help play a pivotal role in the research and development of all things aeronautic – as was shown by the much smaller, but still significant grant for a new way to achieve supersonic flight.

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