NASA is doing more than "commuter runs" and a "few experiments" at the International Space Station ["Let's take a trip Up There," News, April 29]. NASA is leading the world in space exploration, reaching for new heights and laying the foundation for human missions farther into our solar system than ever before.
The work being done on the International Space Station is essential for NASA's ambitious future missions: landing on an asteroid in the mid-2020s and a human mission to Mars by the 2030s. The station is also a technology test bed that is, among other things, advancing our understanding of robotics.
At the same time, NASA will land the Mars Science Laboratory, a car-sized rover named Curiosity, on the Martian surface in August. This mission, along with other ongoing robotic and satellite missions, will collect critical data that will give NASA scientists and researchers important information about sending humans deeper into space. To achieve those future missions, NASA is handing off transportation to the space station to private space companies, which will save us money and allow us to focus on the more challenging missions.
We're also hard at work on the Space Launch System and the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle -- the heavy-lift rocket and spacecraft that will carry our future astronauts farther than before. And we'll have plenty of astronauts to choose from. NASA received more than 6,000 applications for the astronaut program this year -- the highest number since the Apollo missions.
The end of the shuttle program marks the close of one remarkable chapter in our nation's spaceflight history, and turns the page to the next, even more ambitious one.
David S. Weaver, Washington
Editor's note: The writer is the associate administrator for communications at NASA.