Civil space programs have major science directorates that guide programmatic decisions. Divisions for Solar System Exploration, Structure & Evolution of the Universe, and Astronomical Search for Origins are all found in NASA’s $## billion 2005 space science budget.
Space-based platforms provide unique opportunities for microgravity research and international scientific cooperation. The ISS, the space shuttles, Skylab, Russia’s Mir Space Station and Soyuz, and the Chinese Shenzhou have enabled microgravity research.
More than ## missions carrying scientific instruments, in the form of probes and rovers, have been launched into the solar system to study planets, comets, asteroids, and other phenomena. These instruments return valuable scientific data on the history and nature of the solar system. Recently, NASA launched the New Horizons probe in January 2006 to study Pluto.
Greater biotechnology research and manufacturing is among the far-term prospects (20-30 years) for space enterprise, given more affordable access and orbital platforms. However, there are several current applications of biotechnology to space science and exploration, including research efforts in food production, microbial ecology in closed space habitats, and sensors for monitoring astronauts’ health.
China’s Shenzhou (“Divine Vessel”) launched two taikonauts into orbit in 2005 for a mission lasting more than 115 hours. It was China’s second human launch, following the launch of one taikonaut in October 2003. China’s next human mission is expected to launch in 2007. The Shenzhou capsule bears many design similarities to Russia’s Soyuz reentry crew capsule.
Russia’s Soyuz has been the workhorse of Roscosmos, having been in production for more than 40 years. The vehicle’s separated reentry capsule and laboratory module optimize space with a minimum of weight. In 2005, Soyuz took its third space tourist, Gregory Olsen, to the ISS. Currently, the vehicle is used to rotate the crew of the ISS, (a service for which NASA pays), launching to the station twice in 2005.