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Tour focuses on the future

NASA chief technologist gives a tour showing what in store for space programs.

August 11, 2010|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
(Tim Berger )

A NASA official on Wednesday outlined an aggressive, multi-decade space technology and exploration development plan that includes sending humans into deep space by 2025, sending humans to orbit Mars by 2035 and landing a human on the surface of Mars sometime shortly thereafter.

NASA will make strategic investments in propulsion, robotics, structures and optics — space technologies that will lay the foundation for the agency's future, said Bobby Braun, chief technologist for NASA.

"What we are going to focus on in space technology is long-term technological goals," Braun said. "I am not talking about technology for the next Mars mission, I am talking about technology for a Mars mission a decade from now or two decades from now."

The comments came during a visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge on Wednesday where Braun toured the Mars Yard and reviewed some of the latest Mars rover hardware and software technology. President Obama named Braun as chief technologist in February, part of the administration's effort to reinvigorate NASA technology development and space exploration.

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"Over the past 10 years, the research and technology competency has been down," Braun said. "This isn't just my opinion, this is the opinion of a number of national academy reports that have come out over the last two years."

The Obama administration has budgeted nearly $5 billion for NASA space technology research during the next five years, Braun said. But NASA will not rely solely on internal brain power to generate the next generation of space software and hardware. Instead, starting Oct. 1, the agency will expand its innovative partnership programs, casting a wide net across academia and private business to attract the most innovative ideas, Braun said.

And some of the new technologies will translate directly to solving problems on Earth, Braun added.

"By pursuing these advances, by setting our sights far in the distance … we are also going to be building the technological capability of the nation," Braun said. "We are going to be contributing to a number of other societal challenges, those of national security, the environment, energy."

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