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Just days before the Kepler-22b announcement, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., thrilling spectators who gathered to witness the big six-wheeled rover set sail for the Red Planet. MSL, nicknamed Curiosity by an enthusiastic eighth grader from Kansas, is now barreling toward an Aug. 6 landing at Gale Crater. The mission promises to challenge Curiosity’s sophisticated mobile science lab with terrain that could reveal whether a world within our reach is, or once was, suitable for life.
As January came to a close, there was fresh evidence that achievements like these are generating a growing excitement for exploration among Americans of every age.
A fourth grade class from Bozeman, Mont., submitted the winning entries, Ebb and Flow, to name a pair of twin NASA moon probes now in orbit. In all, 11,000 students from 900 classrooms representing nearly every state participated in the space agency-sponsored naming contest.
Meanwhile, the number of applicants for an estimated 15 openings in NASA’s astronaut corps surged to almost 6,400 — the highest applicant total since NASA hired its first class of space shuttle astronauts in 1978. The missions for this astronaut class will include long-duration trips to the International Space Station to conduct research that will enhance life on Earth and develop expertise for deep space exploration.
With assembly now complete, this one-of-a-kind research facility and national lab is open to imaginative experiments sponsored by experts from academia and the private sector through at least 2020. The nation’s continued commitment to the ISS is also fostering an important market for emerging U.S. commercial space transportation services — for humans as well as cargo. This economic sphere promises to expand as we extend our exploratory reach.
These remarkable developments clearly demonstrate our nation’s engineering and scientific prowess and set the stage for a significant new era of space exploration and development. We can continue to forge a vigorous space exploration program for America. Continued support for a robust NASA budget, from the administration and Congress, is essential to secure our economic and scientific future in space.
Gerry Griffin, Bernard Harris, Tom Jones and former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) are board members of the Coalition for Space Exploration.