Human Exploration and Development of Space


We seek to bring the frontier of space fully within the sphere of human activity to build a better future for all humankind. Imagine new products based on space research, such as high-quality protein crystals to allow the design of new drugs for treating disease. Envision school children learning their lessons by telepresence instruction from the Moon. Imagine commerce flourishing in space, with solar power satellites, or a Martian powerplant to permit a permanent colony. These images are part of the Human Exploration and Development of Space (HEDS) Enterprise. The mission of the Enterprise is to open the space frontier by exploring, using, and enabling the development of space and to expand the human experience into the far reaches of space.

In exploring space, HEDS brings people and machines together to overcome challenges of
distance, time, and environment. Robotic science missions survey and characterize other bodies as precursors to eventual human missions. The Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) serve as research platforms to pave the way for sustained human presence in space through critical research on human adaptation. These programs also provide opportunities for research with applications on Earth. HEDS serves as a catalyst for commercial space development. We will employ breakthrough technologies to revolutionize human space flight.

Photo of the Shuttle docking with the MIR space station Phase I of the International Space Station icludes nine docking missions by the Space Shuttle to the Russian Mir space station.

Questions to Address

HEDS pursues the answers to myriad research and engineering questions that must be answered as we learn to live and work in space. HEDS plays an important role in pursuing answers to the questions: What is the fundamental role of gravity and cosmic radiation in vital biological, physical, and chemical systems in space, on other planetary bodies, and on Earth, and how do we apply this fundamental knowledge to the establishment of permanent human presence in space to improve life on Earth? HEDS also plays an important role working with the other Enterprises to pursue answers to other fundamental questions, including: Does life exist elsewhere than on our planet?


The goals of the HEDS Enterprise are as follows:

  • Prepare to conduct human missions of exploration to planetary and other bodies in the solar system;
  • Use the environment of space to expand scientific knowledge;
  • Provide safe and affordable human access to space, establish a human presence in space, and share the human experience of being in space;
  • Enable the commercial development of space and share HEDS knowledge, technologies, and assets that promise to enhance the quality of life on Earth.

Strategies and Outcomes

The Enterprise will contribute new scientific knowledge by studying the effects of gravity and the space environment on important biological, chemical, and physical processes. This knowledge will provide fundamental insights for new Earth-bound applications and technology. We will continue to develop biomedical knowledge and technology to allow people to thrive physically and psychologically while exploring and opening the space frontier.

The Enterprise relies on the robotic missions of the Space Science Enterprise to provide extensive knowledge of the geology, environment, and resources of planetary bodies. The Space Science Enterprise missions will also demonstrate the feasibility of utilizing local resources to "live off the land." HEDS will fully integrate and utilize the ISS, the Space Shuttle, and other international contributions. The Shuttle-Mir program demonstrates cooperation among spacefaring nations and the interlocking of various technical systems. The ISS will be the largest multinational science and engineering program in history and will vastly expand the human experience of living and working in space. This long-duration laboratory will provide unprecedented opportunities for science, technology, and commercial investigations in the space environment.

We will conduct research and technology development for advanced life support systems, which will be validated on the ISS. We will develop revolutionary advanced technologies that will support future national decisions regarding human missions beyond Earth orbit. HEDS will join with the private sector to stimulate opportunities for commercial development in space as a key to future settlement. Near-term efforts will emphasize joint pilot projects that provide clear benefit to Earth from the development of near-Earth space, while the long-term emphasis will be on the use of resources and environments of planetary bodies for the benefit of humankind and to sustain a human presence beyond Earth.

Artist’s concept of a potential Mars mission. Here, the crew has connected two habitats together to conduct a variety of surface exploration activities. Artist’s concept of a potential Mars

Safe, reliable, low-cost transportation is critical to the goals of the HEDS Enterprise. The Space Shuttle program is committed to flying safely, meeting the manifest, improving system supportability and reliability, and reducing cost—in that order of priority. HEDS is implementing the Shuttle upgrade program to improve reliability, performance, and longevity of Space Shuttle operations to meet ISS needs and human exploration goals beyond 2012. HEDS will support efforts by the private sector to develop next-generation technologies for human travel and operations in space. We will develop revolutionary new advanced transportation concepts for accommodating humans, including travel to distant destinations. The Agency's efforts will provide space operations management and communications services through commercial means while setting the stage for future investments that will be required as we explore the solar system and beyond.

HEDS employs a strategy that contributes to the national community, shapes activities to return near-term direct benefits, and clearly communicates these benefits to the Enterprise's partners and customers, including the public.

Arrow pointing right with the word Roadmap

Roles and Responsibilities

The NASA Centers' primary missions to support the HEDS Enterprise are listed in the table below.

Center Mission
Ames Research Center Astrobiology
Johnson Space Center Human Exploration and Astro Materials
Kennedy Space Center Space Launch
Marshall Spac Flight Center Space Transportation Systems and Microgravity Research
Stennis Space Center Rocket Propulsion Testing

Previous Page Appendix Glossary Next Page Table of Contents

Web Design: Pamela Sams
Last Updated: October 30, 1997
For more information contact Gary Steinberg,Office of Policy and Plans.

NASA Privacy Statement, Disclaimer,
and Accessibility Certification