Phoenix and STS-124 — What a Week!

The last two weeks have been pretty spectacular for NASA. We awaited the landing of Phoenix and launch of STS-124, and both were successful.  

Phoenix Mars Landing

On May 25, Phoenix landed on the Arctic plains of northern Mars. It was a moment of multiple emotions, first anticipation and then absolute exhilaration, when Phoenix landed.

The first images revealed a landscape familiar to that of some of the colder climates on Earth. The Martian surface where Phoenix landed is strikingly similar to the permafrost landscape of northeastern Spitsbergen, Svalbard (picture attached of both).  On Earth, permafrost can preserve organic molecules, bacteria, and fungi for hundreds of thousands of years. Phoenix will bore down into the frozen ground, scoop up the frozen soil with its robotic arm and deliver it to scientific instruments on its deck. One instrument, called TEGA, will vaporize the soil sample and analyze the chemistry of the vapors. Ultimately, we hope to learn whether water-ice just below the surface ever thaws and whether some of the chemical ingredients for life — as we know it — are preserved in the icy soil.  Perhaps our planets are even more similar than we thought. Some of the most intriguing images so far are those of the surface underneath the lander. These images show a white-hard surface that was apparently exposed by Phoenix’s thrusters during landing. It’s very possible that this surface is the water-ice for which Phoenix is searching.  

The day Phoenix landed was the busiest day of the year on the NASA website. One hundred and eighteen thousand people watched the landing on the NASA TV website and over a 24-hour period, there were 2 million unique visits to our Phoenix website and view Phoenix Mission multimedia.

STS-124 Launch

On May 31, the STS-124 mission was successfully launched on a 14-day mission. This crew will deliver the second of the three components that make up Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), a laboratory, to the International Space Station (ISS) along with its remote manipulator system. The crew will use a combination of robotics and three spacewalks to accomplish its mission objectives.  After installing the laboratory on the Station, the crew will also move the Japanese Logistics Module, which has been residing on Node 2 since its delivery on the last Shuttle mission, and attach it to Kibo. The logistics module contains computers and other components that will be used to outfit the Kibo laboratory. The final component of Kibo, known as the Exposed Facility (we refer to it as the Kibo “porch”), should arrive at the ISS next Spring. Once complete, Kibo will be the largest international component on the ISS.  

As of Thursday, June 5, the crew has outfitted Kibo with systems racks and experiment racks and the second power and avionics string in Kibo has been successfully activated. Also, external cameras for use with the robotic arm as well as the “porch” were fitted to the exterior.  The ISS and Shuttle crews are doing great and ahead of schedule. Visit the STS-124 mission site.

California Outreach Effort

Last week, I was on travel again hitting three different venues in California. On Tuesday, 13 May, I was the keynote speaker for the California Space Authority’s Space Day Luncheon in Sacramento. While speaking to the group, made up of aerospace contractors, California cabinet officials, and space enthusiasts about the history of our Nation’s space program and the exciting future ahead of us, another kind of history was being made just across the street in the state capitol building. Assemblywoman Karen Bass was being sworn in as the first African American female Speaker of the California Assembly.

Wednesday, I was in San Jose for the fifth NASA Future Forum. The San Jose Tech Museum was a terrific venue for the Future Forum and the officials at the museum provided a week’s worth of space-related educational activities to the local community. On the day of the Future Forum 1,600 students toured the museum. In my last blog, I mentioned that the San Jose Future Forum would be on Second Life and so it was. It was another unconventional outreach opportunity, and I would like to thank Erika Vick for creating and managing my avatar, Xena Dahl (closest name to Dale). I was joking when I said to name my avatar Xena, but the avatar was created — thanks Erika  — and so I’m just going to run with it.

I am excited about the future and I enjoy talking about what we are doing and where we are going with the Nation’s space program. What resonates with the general public the most is the combination of the inspiration from our space exploration missions with the examples of how NASA-derived technologies are critical for life here on earth.

The base speech for the Future Forums was the same and what we changed was the discussion of state-specific information and NASA-derived technologies. For example, in Miami I used ResQPOD and in San Jose I talked about software technology developed at NASA JPL called VICAR, Video Image Communication and Retrieval.

After my keynote in San Jose, several individuals said my speech was “powerful” and that is such a compliment because now they “get” it and are re-energized in their interest in America’s space program. As my staff says, the speeches I give are getting better. I am an introvert by nature and I have stepped way out of my comfort zone, but I feel it is extremely important to discuss the importance of NASA to the general public.  

Lastly, on Thursday, I spent the morning meeting with the local elected officials of Mountain View and Sunnyvale in California. Ames Research Center has done a great job of working with their local communities.

From Soyuz and Sputnik to Women in Aerospace

Soyuz and Sputnik

I am in Russia and Kazakhstan this week and was fortunate to be able to view the successful launch of Expedition 16 on the Soyuz. This is the first time that I have seen a launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and it was spectacular.  

Shana Dale and Rebecca Keiser (Left); Soyuz launch (Right)

Soyuz launch

Mike Griffin was here in Russia last week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sputnik.  As he so eloquently stated, “I am convinced that the Sputnik accomplishment by the Russian people was responsible for the creation of the American space program that I head today. For without Explorer I, without Yuri Gagarin, there would not, I believe, have been Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab, the key programs of the 1960s and early ‘70s in the United States.Without Sputnik, there would have been no Apollo.” The Russian space program continues to do great things and we are fortunate to partner with them now and into the future.

STS-118 Crew Visit

STS 118 CrewLast week, I had the pleasure of introducing the crew of STS-118 in the Headquarters’ auditorium to a packed crowd of employees and family members and more than one hundred students from the surrounding area from first grade to undergraduate (photo: left).  The young students were from Stevens Elementary, Cesar Chavez Public Charter, and the Merit School of Prince William County.  The older students were from Bowie State University, Howard University, George Mason University, and the University of Maryland.  A college student asked Cdr. Kelly what it would take to be a pilot on the shuttle.  After Commander Kelly’s explanation on flight training, he provided an example: 1,500 landings in a shuttle training aircraft (modified Gulfstream II) for one landing.  Crews always garner big crowds which thoroughly enjoy listening to the stories about the mission.  I hope the astronauts had as positive an impact on the students as the students did on us.

The crew had a jam-packed schedule, as usual, and I had the opportunity to see them often during the week, including being with them at the Capitol Hill reception in their honor, the Women in Aerospace awards dinner, and the Maryland Space Business Roundtable event at the National Air and Space Museum with Dr. John Mather.

Women in Aerospace

Lorraine Rodgers with Astronaut Barbara Morgan

On October 2, I presented the International Achievement Award from Women in Aerospace (WIA) to Debra Facktor Lepore.  As I noted during my introduction of Debra, we met many years ago when we were both in our twenties and she taught aerobics.  Talk about a blast from the past. It was a great evening to celebrate the accomplishments of many distinguished women in the aerospace community.  A true highlight was hearing from former Lieutenant Lorraine Rodgers who served as a WASP in the ‘40s.  Truly a remarkable woman and I appreciate her dedication to this country.  Ms. Rodgers presented the Achievement Award to Elizabeth Thorn.  WIA has come a long way over the years and Erin Neal received the award for Outstanding Member.  She has done a superior job in increasing the visibility and significance of this organization.  The event was very well done and to everyone who played a role in putting the evening together, it was a great event.  I would like to extend my sincerest congratulations to all of the award recipients.  (This speech can be downloaded here.)  (Photo:  Ms. Rodgers and Astronaut Barbara Morgan)

A Journey to the Edge of the Universe:
An Evening with Dr. John Mather,
2006 Nobel Laureate in Physics

Nobel Prize winner Dr. John Mather

On October 3, I had the privilege of attending an event honoring Dr. John Mather, the first NASA employee to earn a Nobel Prize for work performed at a NASA research center (photo: left).  The event, “A Journey to the Edge of the Universe: An Evening with Dr. John Mather, 2006 Nobel Laureate in Physics,” was held at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and was sponsored by the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.  I not only had the pleasure of speaking, I had the privilege of accepting a replica of the Nobel Prize awarded to Dr. Mather on behalf of NASA.  We plan to display the replica, with details on his research, in the front lobby for all to see.  

Dr. Mather is not resting.  He will continue to seek answers that will help us understand our place in the universe through his research as the Senior Project Scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).  JWST will find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way.  We know Dr. Mather will not be our last Nobel winner, since NASA continues to hire the best and the brightest our country has to offer.  We have done so for the last 50 years and we will continue for the next 50 and beyond.  Dr. Mather is a man of brilliance and of humility and we are so proud to have him at NASA.

His speech, “Inspiration, Creativity, and Perseverance,” was very appropriate because this event was also the official kick-off of NASA’s 50th Anniversary year-long celebration. (My speech can be downloaded here.)


STS-120 Docking

Last week, I was in Los Angeles and spoke at the Transforming Space 2007 conference organized by the California Space Authority. The portion of my speech that I believe garnered the greatest positive feedback was my discussion of the most recent Space Shuttle mission, STS-120, which landed on Wednesday, November 7.

The docking of STS-120 with the International Space Station (ISS) marked an historic event as ISS Commander Peggy Whitson and Shuttle Commander Pam Melroy greeted each other as the hatch was opened.  This was the first time we’ve had female commanders on duty at the same time, and it attracted a lot of attention. I loved this cartoon that Lynn Cline, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator, Space Operations Mission Directorate, sent to me (cartoon by Jeff Parker, Florida Today, 2007):

This Space Shuttle mission to the ISS clearly demonstrated the challenges of living and working in space, as well as using human ingenuity to deal with such challenges. The Shuttle and Station programs involve careful choreography of both crew activities, including spacewalks, and robotics tasks. In addition to the on-orbit teamwork between humans and machines, the interaction with the team on the ground that responds to emerging issues is essential. Finally, it is a partnership across nations. The recent mission involved crew from the United States, Russia and Europe, all working to achieve common goals. 

In its final configuration, the Station will be symmetrical, with double wings of solar arrays on each end of the structure, called the truss, and the modules with living quarters and laboratories in the center. The construction of the Station essentially has been done from the center outward. However, power was needed during the early construction, so one solar array was placed temporarily at the Center, with plans to move it later.  On a previous mission, this array was folded up in preparation for moving it. There were some difficulties retracting the array, which folds like an accordion, because one of the guide wires along the edge had frayed and the grommets that it runs through would periodically get stuck. The crew used a tool, dubbed the “hockey stick” due to its shape, to nudge the panels into place.

A key task of the STS-120 mission launched on October 23 was to move this array to its final location and then redeploy the array. The tasks to disconnect, move, and reattach the system all went well. However, when the attempt was made to unfold the array, the crew noticed some movement in the array and then saw a tear in it. The sun angle and camera views made it hard to detect the problem initially, but the crew stopped the deployment as soon as they saw it. 

Here’s where the ingenuity comes in to play. The crew used the cameras and robot arms to get photos of the damaged area and described what they saw to the ground. The ground team went to work and in a matter of days, designed a repair and instructions for the crew.   The planning for the spacewalk required creativity and “MacGuyver-like” skills (but no chewing gum). Astronauts on the Station cut aluminum strips and taped them together to form home-made braces, known as “cufflinks.” During the development of the techniques for the spacewalk, the team came up with a couple of tools that thought would be extremely useful and did not previously exist. Within hours, the Russians were able to get their spacewalk group together and devise a couple of them, and made Russian Station member Yuri Malenchenko available to help the U.S. crew out. In addition to adding these braces, it became clear that the guide wire would probably have to be cut since it seemed to be what caused the array panels to hang up and get torn.

Astronaut Scott Parazynski, Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS)The team determined it would be better for our Astronaut to go to the damaged site rather than retracting the array to bring it closer to the truss. That meant a novel approach to reach the work site was needed.  The Station robotic arm was used to hold a boom normally used with the Shuttle robotic system, and Astronaut Scott Parazynski, with Doug Wheelock also on the spacewalk to “spot” him, rode on the end of it.  Once there, Parazynski carefully threaded each end of the brace through a grommet hole in the array. Five of these ‘cuff-links’ helped firm up the damaged panel.  In addition, he discovered that the guide wire had frayed a good deal — he colorfully described it as a
‘hairball’.  He successfully cut the wire, which was not needed for structural integrity. Once these repairs were completed and Parazynski was backed away from the array, the Station crew was able to successfully and fully deploy the array robotically.

Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS), astronaut Scott Parazynski(3 Nov. 2007) — While anchored to a foot restraint on the end of the  STS-120 mission specialist, assesses his repair work as the solar array is fully deployed during the mission’s fourth session of extravehicular activity (EVA) while Space Shuttle Discovery is docked with the International Space Station. During the 7-hour, 19-minute spacewalk, Parazynski cut a snagged wire and installed homemade stabilizers designed to strengthen the damaged solar array’s structure and stability in the vicinity of the damage. Astronaut Doug Wheelock (out of frame), mission specialist, assisted from the truss by keeping an eye on the distance between Parazynski and the array.

 (3 Nov. 2007) — One of a series of images of a two-foot tear in solar array material downlinked by the STS-120 crewmembers just a few hours prior to a two-person spacewalk scheduled to make repairs to the damaged area. Discovery and International Space Station crewmembers have been rehearsing their respective roles in the spacewalk, in concert with personnel on the ground.


For additional photos on STS-120 EVA and Flight Day photos, go to photo gallery

This is a great example of the value of humans in space.  The ability to react real-time to new developments, to observe and describe what they see, and even to build new tools on the fly were demonstrated.  The repair involved teamwork across the Shuttle and Station teams, between the ground and the on-orbit crew, across cultures, and between humans and robotic systems.  When we return to the Moon, or journey to Mars, we’ll be even further from the Earth, and our crews will need to be able to improvise and deal with operational issues as they arise. We’ll be using integrated systems that are both automated and involving humans in the loop. While we’d prefer that everything goes according to plan without any glitches, that’s not realistic, so we need to be prepared to meet those challenges.  It’s all part of exploration for the future and exploration that we’re doing right now. 

Central America Trip

NASA Earth Science R&D

The purpose of the trip to Central America was to see first-hand the practical applications of NASA’s Earth science research and development. In Guatemala, we were introduced to how NASA’s remote sensing leads to identification of archaeological sites. In Panama, we toured SERVIR (more later) — a project that involves the only regional network in the world dedicated to environmental management.

I was accompanied by Woody Turner, Program Scientist, Earth Science Division, Science Mission Directorate, whose knowledge of NASA’s Earth science program provided me with a deeper understanding and appreciation of what I saw. NASA’s archaeologist Dr. Tom Sever, SERVIR Project Manager Dr. Daniel Irwin, and Boston University Assistant Professor of Archaeology Dr. Bill Saturno (who is currently on detail to Marshall Space Flight Center) were on the trip as well. The work of these three men, all based at Marshall Space Flight Center, is truly inspirational. Their work is important in many dimensions — from NASA to the world and from our generation to all future generations of human beings. As usual, I received great support from the Office of External Relations through their Deputy Assistant Administrator Al Condes and NASA’s Latin America Desk Officer, Michael Moore. And thanks to my executive assistant Kathryn Manuel who goes above and beyond every day and puts up with me. Bill Ingalls, NASA photographer, was with us and he is an incredible photographer and a real joy to be around.


Walking in the dense Guatemalan jungle

One of the NASA scientists said that we were in the “wild west” of Guatemala when we landed in Flores, Guatemala last week (the week of December 10, 2007). After seeing the dense jungle and the wide variety of animals along and in the roadway (dogs, horses, chickens, and pigs), I definitely had to agree. Everyone I met was so open and friendly and very welcoming of visitors from NASA.  

In Guatemala we left the Flores airport on a bus with members of the National Police, complete with machine guns, behind us in a truck. We traveled close to an hour to reach the place where we stayed while in Guatemala. We flew via helicopter from our remote site to an even more remote site called San Bartolo, with Bill Saturno (the clearing for the helicopter where we landed was small, so we had to descend straight vertical).  Then we hiked through the jungle for about 15 minutes to reach the Maya archaeological site at San Bartolo. 

Bill Saturno is an archaeologist specializing in ancient Maya civilization, New World  archaeology, and remote sensing. In March 2001, while exploring in northeastern Guatemala, he found the remote archaeological site of San Bartolo and the oldest intact murals ever found in the Maya world. He came close to death, from dehydration, on that journey. Excavations are ongoing at San Bartolo. When the excavation team is up and running, there are approximately 120 people in camp.

After finding San Bartolo, Bill began working with Tom Sever and Dan Irwin at NASA. He noticed in some imagery acquired from NASA that the tree cover over Maya sites, known to him, tended to have a slightly different color in the satellite data than the surrounding vegetation. Tom Sever inspected the data and found a similar color change  in the tree canopies above other known sites. Working together, Sever, Saturno, and Irwin confirmed that Maya sites could be identified from space with satellite imagery because the vegetation had a different color signature where the Mayans had cleared land and laid down limestone for their buildings and plazas — one of the scientists had a depiction of what the sites would really have looked like at the time — it would have been all cleared, not a temple in the jungle as it is presently.


In the above photo you can see the small opening (hole) between Bill Saturno and me that we used to enter the main part of the temple. This site is sealed and guarded when the excavation team is not on-site. It was absolutely amazing to view the murals from 100 B.C. about the Mayan story of creation. These murals display early Maya writing, implying that the Mayans had developed a writing system centuries earlier than previously thought.

These early wall paintings were buried within a pyramidal structure.  Looters had previously tunneled through major parts of the temple.  Tunneling deeper into the structure by scientific excavations has since led to the discovery of older parts, some dating back to 400 B.C.

Early Maya mural Third early Maya mural Second early Maya mural

Demarcation Between Mexico and Guatemala

In the early 1990’s, images such as the one above, which clearly shows significant deforestation in Mexico on the border between Mexico and Guatemala, led leaders in the region to join together to establish the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.  This Corridor links hundreds of protected areas stretching from Mexico to Colombia.  Located within this protected Corridor in northern Guatemala are the ruins of the Maya city Tikal.

Mexico and Guatemala border Tikal temple view
Maya ruin at Tikal Tikal Maya chamber

The Maya ruins at Tikal are located in a dense jungle preserve that serves as the home for an incredible diversity of plants and animals.  My visit to the excavated ruins at Tikal was a great complement to my visit earlier in the day to the San Bartolo site. My brief visit to Tikal also provided an excellent opportunity to better understand Maya culture and the significant impact that the Mayans had on their surrounding environment. The magnificent temples served as a backdrop for a rebel base in the Star Wars movie. What you probably don’t realize from this photo is that Bill and I were close to the edge (behind Bill, not me) of a sheer drop that would have killed anyone who fell.

Dropoff at Tikal ruin Tom Sever briefing

Tom Sever has done extensive field work in the region and through his research using NASA remote sensing data, a large number of  Mayan sites have been identified beneath a rain forest canopy in the Peten area of Guatemala, which is considered the Maya civilization’s heartland.  Also through Tom’s studies, information was revealed that suggested a civilization may have existed in the subtropical Peruvian jungles prior to that of the Incas.  Overall, my trip to Guatemala was spectacular and provided an opportunity to see how NASA’s remote sensing data were used to locate and interpret the remains of the  ancient Maya civilization, and how climate science offers insights into that civilization’s rise and fall. 

We flew Wednesday morning to Guatemala City and we met with scientists, officials, and the U.S. Ambassador James M. Derham.  Later that day, we flew from Guatemala to Panama.


On Thursday, we visited the SERVIR operations facility.  SERVIR (both a Spanish acronym and also a Spanish verb meaning “to serve”) is a regional visualization and monitoring system for Mesoamerica that integrates satellite and other geospatial data for improved scientific knowledge and decision making.  Among other things, SERVIR is used to monitor and forecast ecological changes and severe events such as forest fires, red tides, and tropical storms.  SERVIR addresses the nine societal benefit areas of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS): disasters, ecosystems, biodiversity, weather, water, climate, health, agriculture, and energy.  Eight countries in the region are members of this network and I believe it brings countries together in a unique way.  By viewing this region from space it is clear that land management decisions impact not just that country, but the entire region.

Ambassador DerhamSERVIR-implementing agencies include NASA, the Water Center for the Humid Tropics and Latin America and the Caribbean or CATHALAC, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Central American Commission for Environment and Development or CCAD, the World Bank, the Nature Conservancy, and the United Nations Environmental Programme.  A test bed and rapid prototyping SERVIR facility is managed by Marshall Space Flight Center.  There is great potential to use this network as a model for other parts of the world.  Discussions are already underway to potentially use this model in the eastern part of Africa (maybe as many as 14 countries).   Information about SERVIR can be found at:

  Dan Irwin is the NASA Project Director for SERVIR.  A goal of Dan’s work is to show how NASA data could be used for forest conservation and development throughout the tropics.  Dan also has helped develop small businesses in Central American villages to provide economic alternatives to tropical rainforest slash-and-burn agriculture.  He has built a children’s library and several playgrounds in rural Guatemalan villages.  And on this trip, he brought down twenty bags of clothes and toys for some of the more needy in Guatemala. 


Panama CanalAfter SERVIR, we met with the U.S. Ambassador to Panama, William A. Eaton, as well as Panamanian government officials and members of the university community right next to the Panama Canal.

While in Panama, I was interviewed by Ms. Luz Maria Noli, the “Barbara Walters of Panama.”  She is one of the most extroverted people I have ever met and a real kick to be around. Al Condes was carrying my portfolio because I had to leave it while being interviewed.  Luz saw that and said to me, “I am older than you and I need him to carry my things around.” So, of course, I told her she could have Al.

We flew back late Thursday night. This was one of the most personally fulfilling trips I have taken. The NASA scientists whose work benefits this region are selfless and inspirational. It is my honor to work with such fine individuals.

Budget Update

NASA is still in formulation with the White House on the President’s budget for FY 2009. The program direction and budget numbers are embargoed until the President’s budget is released in early February.
Regarding the FY 2008 budget, the House and Senate, as of December 19, adopted an FY 2008 omnibus appropriation for 11 domestic appropriations bills including NASA’s, clearing the measure for the President.  In the interim, the House and Senate have adopted an extension to the FY 2008 Continuing Resolution through December 31, allowing time for the omnibus appropriation to be presented to the President for his consideration. I will update you in future postings on the status of the FY 2008 bill.

Why a Blog?

Why a Blog?

I am looking for a more direct way to communicate with people inside the agency. There is so much that goes on at headquarters and I want to be able to pull the curtain back on at least some of it and also explain what is going on with new initiatives. I anticipate updating the blog every week — I know, not as routine as many but it’s hard even to find time to eat lunch.  

International Meetings

I just returned from a trip to Europe and Russia to meet with my international counterparts and I believe we had very productive discussions regarding current and potential future cooperation. A primary goal for my visits was to discuss potential areas of collaboration in exploration. Great progress has been made. When I first came to the agency in November 2005, our ISS partners were very concerned about NASA’s commitment to assemble the space station. I believe they have all come to realize, mainly through our actions, that we are fully committed to assembly and use of the ISS. As a result, our ISS partners are now in a position to begin serious discussions with NASA on opportunities for human and robotic exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond.  

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) both have new leaders so I felt it was important to establish relations with them at the senior leadership level and personally explain NASA’s strong interest in continuing our long history of successful cooperation with their agencies. Also, despite several personal invitations from the Head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, I had not yet had an opportunity to visit Russia in my capacity at NASA and given their extensive experience in human space flight and exploration activities I wanted to see some of their facilities.

While I was in Europe, although my schedule did not permit me to attend, there was an international exploration workshop in Spineto, Italy, where representatives from 14 space agencies, including NASA, concluded a framework for the Global Exploration Strategy for lunar exploration.  

In Cologne, Germany, I met with Professor Johann-Dietrich Wörner, who became Chairman of the Executive Board of DLR in March.  Professor Wörner told me that DLR is conducting a feasibility study to assess whether DLR will pursue a lunar orbiter mission to survey the lunar surface. The results of the feasibility study will be finalized by the end of the year. The German science community seems interested in lunar science, and I felt that my meetings there were quite positive and that there will be significant opportunities for enhanced NASA-DLR cooperation in the future.

I then traveled from Germany to Rome where I met with Professor Giovanni Fabrizio Bignami, President of ASI. Professor Bignami began his tenure as ASI President at the end of April and this was the first NASA meeting with him. ASI is currently undergoing a process to assess Italy’s science objectives and requirements. Given our long history of successful cooperation with Italy, including major cooperative initiatives in human space flight and Earth and space science, I look forward to further discussions with ASI to explore ASI interests in lunar exploration and other potential areas of cooperation.  

In Moscow, I met with Mr. Anatoli Nikolaevich Perminov, Head of Roscosmos. Russia’s 10-year plan for space goes through 2015, but Russia is in the process of developing a longer-range strategic plan for 2016-2040. Roscosmos indicated a willingness to discuss lunar cooperation further. Also in Moscow, I visited Khrunichev State Space Science Production Center where I saw a full-scale mock-up of the Mir Space Station, Proton launch vehicles, Angara launch vehicles and several other impressive pieces of flight hardware, and met with Khrunichev’s Deputy Director, Dr. Kuzin. I also went to Mission Control Center — Moscow, met the Director, and had a great discussion with both Russian and NASA staff stationed there.  At Rocket Space Corporation — Energia, I met with Energia President Nikolai Sevastianov and he led me on a tour of their factory floor and museum. At the museum, we saw actual flight hardware from Russia’s early human space flight missions, including Yuri Gagarin’s capsule — it was amazing!

Shana Dale at the Rocket Space Corporation — Energia At Rocket Space Corporation -- Energia

On the left above is me at the Rocket Space Corporation — Energia. I met with Energia President Nikolai Sevastianov and he led me on a tour of their factory floor and museum.

I then met with Dr. Polishchuk, General Director and General Designer of NPO Lavochkin. Lavochkin’s Luna 16 mission returned 101 grams of lunar soil on September 24, 1970. With an impressive array of space exploration missions including a wide range of planetary missions, I am confident that Lavochkin will continue to play a key role in future space exploration activities.

Personal Notes

As a Food Network fan, I tried to take every advantage of my foreign travel to taste the local cuisine. I had some wonderful cheese in Germany, incredible prosciutto and pastas in Italy and amazing cheesy bread in Russia called Khachapuri. Although Moscow is a beautiful city, the volume of traffic in and around the city can only be believed once you experience it.  In one case, we departed a facility at 1:30 p.m. and had allotted 1½ hours to reach our next stop which was only about 10-15 miles away. In the end it took over two hours in stop-and-go traffic. Having said that, at each stop our Russian hosts apologized for the traffic in their city and graciously modified their schedules to maximize the time available. I flew from Russia to Orlando for the launch of STS-117. It takes my breath away every time I see a Shuttle launch — the sheer majesty and the way it rumbles through your body cannot be adequately articulated. I wish every American could experience it.

Next Trip

On Sunday June 17, I fly to Colorado for meetings there and then in Arizona with leaders of industry and academia as well as local officials to discuss support for America’s space program.  I will tell you more about these meetings in future postings.

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Budget Update and Travels

Update on the NASA Budget

As you know from my previous postings, NASA’s fiscal year 2008 budget is of great concern. So, of interest is that the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee marked up the appropriations bill in which NASA is contained on June 26, 2007 and the full Appropriations Committee marked up the CJS bill on June 28, 2007. NASA was funded at $17.459 billion; $150 million above the requested level.

Colorado and Arizona Trip

On Sunday afternoon, June 17, I flew to Denver, Colorado. Early on Monday, June 18, I went to the local NBC affiliate studio, KUSA, and gave a live interview. I discussed the importance of a dynamic and vibrant space program to United States national and economic security. Then I went to the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and met with Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien briefly before joining her in a meeting of the Colorado Space Coalition. This Coalition includes representatives from the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, the Space Foundation, the Colorado Space Business Roundtable, several aerospace companies, and representation from local businesses. Cities throughout the state of Colorado were represented, including Aurora, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Denver. The meeting also included staff from the Denver Mayor’s office.

The Coalition had arranged to have U.S. Representative Mark Udall and U.S. Senator Ken Salazar speak at different parts of the meeting. Representative Udall is Chair of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. Representative Udall, along with Representatives Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter and Senator Salazar, sent a letter to the House Appropriations Chair and Ranking Member which stated that, “[i]n 2006, U.S. aerospace-generated revenues topped $184B, producing a trade surplus of $52B, and a level of exports three times the level of imports. NASA’s unique capabilities in scientific research and engineering make it a critical source of technology, which provide high paying jobs…”

Colorado ranks third in the United States for largest space economy, as measured by employment and second for private aerospace employment concentration. This meeting provided an opportunity for me to provide a brief update on NASA’s various efforts and how NASA would allocate its financial resources across our many missions. I gave a formal speech at the beginning and then we broke into a more informal discussion. In similar gatherings and discussions around the country, I have spoken about the impact local communities can have on young people and their educational goals in support of America’s space program.

The Colorado Space Coalition includes a diverse group, representing all major economic and specific aerospace interests, and there are participants from across the state. They are well-organized. I accepted, on behalf of NASA, a proclamation presented by Lt. Governor O’Brien on behalf of the State of Colorado. The proclamation noted the importance of exploration and discovery to America’s history, and NASA’s continuing mission to pioneer the future in aeronautics research, space exploration, and scientific discovery. On behalf of NASA, I presented the Lt. Governor, who accepted on behalf of the State of Colorado, a montage, flown on STS-116, of the American flag and the Colorado state flag.

Later that day I met with the editorial board of the Denver Post, “NASA exec preaches to Colo choir” ; then local mayors from Aurora, Boulder, and Colorado Springs. I participated in an academic roundtable discussion with senior officials from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, and The Colorado School of Mines. An article about my visit also ran in the Denver Business Journal and my editorial ran in the Rocky Mountain News.

On Tuesday morning, June 19, I flew to Phoenix (110 degrees!) for a meeting with Arizona senior officials from the state governor’s office, the state government, business groups, as well as representatives from U.S. Representative John Shadegg’s office, and from U.S. Representative Rick Renzi’s office. Governor Napolitano, as chair of the National Governors Association, chose Innovation America for this year’s initiative. The initiative is focused on the need to drive innovation primarily through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. By elevating the priority of STEM education, the ultimate goal is to meet workforce needs, commercialize scientific discovery, and regain America’s status as the global leader of innovation.

Consistent with NASA’s existing programs, we discussed three priorities in STEM education that are the focus for the Governor: 1) creating a STEM Center; 2) increasing interest in math and science in preschool through college; and 3) generating innovative solutions to raise interest in math and science.

With this group, I discussed NASA’s effort to map our education programs to the Agency’s three strategic education goals and to assign metrics and objectives to each program. The three NASA strategic education goals are:

  1. Strengthen NASA and the Nation’s future workforce  — NASA will identify and develop the critical skills and capabilities needed to ensure achievement of exploration, science, and aeronautics.
  2. Attract and retain students in STEM disciplines through a progression of educational opportunities for students, teachers, and faculty — To compete effectively for the minds, imaginations, and career ambitions of America’s young people, NASA will focus on engaging and retaining students in STEM education programs to encourage their pursuit of educational disciplines critical to NASA’s future engineering, scientific, and technical missions.
  3. Engage Americans in NASA’s mission  — NASA will build strategic partnerships and linkages between STEM formal and informal education providers. Through hands-on, interactive, educational activities, NASA will engage students, educators, families, the general public, and all agency stakeholders to increase America’s science and technology literacy.

NASA invests approximately $240 million per year (Education office, plus educational efforts in the Mission Directorates) in education. NASA is very interested in maximizing this educational investment, and ensuring it makes a positive difference. It’s a sizeable investment and I could say much more but now I’m thinking this would be a good topic for an upcoming blog entry.

This discussion was followed by a meeting with the editorial board of the Arizona Republic and then an industry roundtable with senior officials from Arizona business organizations and businesses including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, and several aerospace companies. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon attended the latter portion of this meeting and spoke briefly. Late in the afternoon there was an academic roundtable discussion with many representatives from various educational institutions and organizations from throughout the state.

All in all, these meetings were an opportunity to discuss NASA’s activities and their results in states that have a significant aerospace presence but no NASA Centers.

Space Enterprise Council of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

In last week’s posting I said I would write more this week about the efforts of the Space Enterprise Council (SEC) of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This is based on my understanding of their activities. Since the beginning of 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s SEC has been partnering with chambers across the country in support of our Nation’s space program. A large majority of these chambers are within a close proximity of a NASA Field Center, usually within a 100 mile radius.

As part of partnering effort with the chambers, in mid-May, the U.S. Chamber’s SEC teamed with the Citizens for Space Exploration for a Capitol Hill Blitz. Over 300 congressional offices were visited over a two-day period. Based on the work of the SEC, all ten NASA Field Centers were represented by their respective local chambers [which was a first for the annual event]. Though the participating chambers represented a diverse portfolio of NASA programs, all agreed on the importance of the Vision for Space Exploration to their local economies and to the nation’s high-tech competitiveness.

On June 29th, the U.S. Chamber interviewed Mike Griffin for their monthly publication that reaches roughly 200,000 chamber members. The interview covered a wide range of topics ranging from the relevance of NASA to the local business communities to NASA’s efforts ensuring America keeps its competitive edge in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

International Cooperation

International Partnering

I have written about my recent trip to Germany, Italy, and Russia. Mike Griffin also just met with heads of several of our international partner agencies during the Paris Air Show. During his meeting with Dr. Keiji Tachikawa, the head of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Mike signed a joint statement of intent.

NASA has signed statements of intent with JAXA, the British National Space Centre (BNSC), and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). These statements are not formal agreements. They do not signify a significant commitment of resources. However, they are important. They demonstrate the mutual interest of NASA and the international partner in potential exploration cooperation.

The willingness of our partners to sign these statements is progress. Two years ago, our International Space Station (ISS) partners would not discuss any potential future cooperation until they could be sure that NASA would meet its commitments to the ISS program. We have shown these partners that we are serious and will meet the commitments, and now our partners are beginning to discuss the future with us. Additionally, international participation in conclusion of the Global Exploration Strategy framework document shows that NASA is not “going it alone,” but rather there is interest in the Moon and Mars around the world. We cannot say for sure what will come of our discussions, but we are communicating, and plan to continue to do so.

International Travel

I plan to go to Japan in August to attend the SELENE-A lunar mission launch and have discussions with my counterparts at that time. I also plan to go to the UK this year, and to Russia and Kazakhstan to see my first Soyuz launch from Baikonur in October. I believe it is important for NASA’s senior leadership to be represented at these launches when possible to reinforce NASA’s appreciation of the importance of our international partnerships. NASA and JAXA are cooperative partners on JAXA’s SELENE-A mission. The Soyuz will have on-board our Russian cosmonaut colleague Yuri Malenchenko, who will command the Soyuz flight, and NASA astronaut and Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson.

I will keep you posted through this forum on my discussions with our international partners.