In this photo taken by astronaut Neil Armstrong, his colleague Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. poses next to the American flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. – Neil Armstrong / AP / SIPA
NASA celebrated its sixtieth birthday on Monday.
Created to catch up with the US on Russia in the field of space conquest, the US Space Agency has achieved great success. A first man on the moon, a first rover vehicle on Mars, the visit of all the planets of our solar system …
But does it still have a future when private companies, like Space X, emerge on the front of the stage?
Just sixty years old. NASA has passed a major milestone this Monday, October 1st. If it has failed, the American Space Agency can also boast of great successes, the first steps of the man on the Moon, July 20, 1969, are the most spectacular.
What does the future promise? NASA announces decades of "adventures that only science fiction writers could dream of and only NASA and its partners can accomplish." For adventures, yes no doubts. But the future of the US space agency, he remains uncertain. Will it be there again in 60 years? Olivier Sanguy, editor-in-chief of the news section of the Cité de l'Espace, answers 20 Minutes.
It's the # NASA60th anniversary – and what a great 60 years it has been. What are we doing and where are we going? Here's a look at 60 years and counting in just 60 seconds: https://t.co/GPVyLrvyC9 pic.twitter.com/SI20uICX50- NASA (@NASA) October 1, 2018
What prompted, in 1958, to create NASA?
The objective is very clear: to catch up with the Soviet Union in terms of space conquest. On October 4, 1957, the Russians were the first to send into space a satellite, Sputnik 1. We do not realize it today, but it was a huge shock. Many thought that the United States would be the first to succeed. Less than a year later, the Americans created NASA, July 29, 1958. It officially began its activities on October 1.
The Russians have collected the "firsts" for many years. First man in space [Iouri Gargarine, 12 avril 1961]first woman
[Valentina Terechkova, le 16 juin 1963] first extra-vehicular exit … Kennedy quickly understood that the United States had lost the first battle and that it was necessary to see further to regain the leadership of the Russians. This project that would mark the spirits would send the first men on the moon.
In what way did the creation of NASA allow the United States to catch up with the Russians?
Until then, the United States had the Naca [National advisory committee for aeronautics]. So it was a mere advisory committee, when NASA is a true federal agency with a specific program and dedicated funding, behind which everyone ranks. This was the great strength of NASA besides: it concentrated American know-how and space ingenuity under a banner and a clear program: to make a man walk on the moon and bring him back safely. At the same time, on the Soviet side, there were several consulting firms competing with each other and each had its political backing. This dispersion of Russian efforts cost them the Moon.
What are the most notable achievements of NASA?
The Apollo program, completed in 1975 and intended to explore the moon by sending men, is necessarily part of it. "Skylab", a first space station launched into orbit in 1973, also has its place on the list of successes. The United States will also
International Space Station (ISS), a permanent station dedicated to experimental research and launched in 1998. This program is today a great collective success in which five space agencies participate in good agreement with different working methods. It's a small miracle. Then there is the whole exploration program of the solar system of NASA. She multiplied the sending probes, satellites and rover [une sonde spatiale capable de se déplacer]. She is the first to land a rover on the surface of Mars
[sojourner en 1996]she is also the only space agency to have visited all the planets of the solar system. Sometimes it was a "simple" flyover, as for Venus. But that remains an incredible performance. This is a very important part of NASA's work and has allowed us to acquire a lot of data, especially for the monitoring of climate change …
Finally, NASA has also advanced aeronautics and its space missions have often needed to tap into and improve technologies on Earth. In the field of computing in particular.
There was yes. A fire in the capsule of the Apollo 1 program, during a ground test, caused three deaths in 1967. The explosions finally
Challenger shuttles in 1986 and then
Columbia in 2003, a few minutes after their take-off, killed 14 people and convinced Nasa that space shuttles remained dangerous vehicles.
The budget allocated to NASA is no longer that of the Apollo era * and NASA is now dependent on private companies or other space agencies to carry out its programs … Has it lost its beauty?
You might think so, but in my opinion it's a sham. Elon Musk often reminds of it: SpaceX would not be there without NASA and its choice to privatize the cargo service of the ISS. The budgetary restrictions, which do not concern other than the United States, push to move in this direction. It is to be expected in the future that NASA will be less an operational space agency and a development agency that, through its orders, help private space companies to organize themselves. This role is a little underestimated, it is nevertheless crucial. First of all, because NASA does not buy blindfolded launchers. She remains the client and looks at what is done in detail with the possibility of saying at any time: "That, I do not like it". Secondly, because NASA, as the first customer of these private companies, still sets the course today.
What will then be the next adventures that NASA promises?
If we talk about these next challenges, the first will be to better use its allocated budget. This issue is not just about Nasa, but controlling public spending is becoming a key issue. It's not just about the United States. Agencies dependent on public funds must show that they are good students and make the most of every dollar invested. Then, the official program of NASA is to pass the ISS to the private in order to clear the budget to make a station around the Moon hoped for 2024. It would allow to make more complex missions, closer to those planned on Mars, even leaves to rest the foot on the Moon.
Mike Pence, the US Vice President, clearly mentioned this possibility. All this work on the Moon aims to acquire the solid foundation for
go to Mars in the 2030s.
Will NASA still exist in 2080?
Unless we change society completely, I think there will always be space agencies in 60 years. It's true, the private initiatives are extraordinary like Space X which, in a few years, has developed a launcher that comes back and is reusable. No space agency had succeeded. On the other hand, basic science remains essentially at the initiative of the states, simply because the returns on investment are long-term. A private company has no interest in undertaking them, a national space agency can afford.