Next week, NASA will launch its final Space Shuttle mission, turning the page on a remarkable period in America’s history in space, while beginning the next chapter in our nation’s extraordinary story of exploration.
From the early exploits of Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark and Robert Peary to the breakthrough journeys of Alan Shepard and John Glenn, Americans have always been a curious people – bold enough to imagine new worlds, ingenious enough to chart a course to them and courageous enough to go for it. And the gifts of knowledge and innovation that we have brought back from the unknown have played their part in the building of our more perfect union.
Some say that our final Shuttle mission will mark the end of America’s 50 years of dominance in human spaceflight. As a former astronaut and the current NASA Administrator, I want to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half-century because we have laid the foundation for success – and here at NASA failure is not an option.
President Obama has given us a Mission with a capital “M” — to focus again on the big picture of exploration and the crucial research and development that will be required for us to move beyond low Earth orbit. He’s charged us with carrying out the inspiring missions that only NASA can do, which will take us farther than we’ve ever been – to orbit Mars and eventually land on it. He’s asked us to start planning a mission to an asteroid, and right now our Dawn spacecraft is approaching one of the biggest in the solar system, Vesta. What it finds out could help inform such a mission.
The President is asking us to harness that American spirit of innovation, the drive to solve problems and create capabilities that is so embedded in our story and has led us to the Moon, to great observatories, and to humans living and working in space, possibly indefinitely. That American ingenuity is alive and well, and it will fire up our economy and help us create and win the future now.
So when I hear people say – or listen to media reports – that the final Shuttle flight marks the end of U.S. human spaceflight, I have to say… these folks must be living on another planet. We are not ending human space flight, we are recommitting ourselves to it and taking the necessary – and difficult – steps today to ensure America’s pre-eminence in human spaceflight for years to come.
I spent 14 years at NASA before leaving and then returning to head the agency. Some of the people I respect most in the world are my fellow astronauts. Some of my best friends died flying on the shuttle. I’m not about to let human spaceflight go away on my watch. And I’m not going to let it flounder because we pursued a path that we couldn’t sustain.
We have to get out of the business of owning and operating low Earth orbit transportation systems and hand that off to the private sector, with sufficient oversight to ensure the safety of our astronauts. American companies and their spacecraft should send our astronauts to the ISS, rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments. That is what I am committed to and that is what we are going to do.
Along with supporting the ISS and commercial crew transportation, NASA will pursue two critical building blocks for our deep space exploration future — a deep space crew vehicle and an evolvable heavy-lift rocket. As you know, we have made a decision to base the new multi-purpose crew vehicle, or MPCV – our deep space crew module — on the original work we’ve done on the Orion capsule. We’re nearing a decision on the heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System, or SLS, and will announce that decision soon.
Our destinations for humans beyond Earth remain ambitious. They include: the Moon, asteroids, and Mars. The debate is not if we will explore, but how we’ll do it. The International Space Station is the centerpiece of our human space flight for the coming decade. Every research investigation and all of the systems that keep the ISS operational help us figure out how to explore farther from our planet and improve life here.
And we have a huge number of amazing science missions coming up. We’ll advance aeronautics research to create a safer, more environmentally friendly and efficient air travel network.
NASA is moving forward and making change because the status quo is no longer acceptable. President Obama has outlined an urgent national need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build our competitors and create new capabilities that will take us farther into the solar system and help us learn even more about our place in it. NASA is ready for this grand challenge.
As we go into this Independence Day holiday weekend, my thoughts are on what it means to be an American and this great responsibility we have to our country. For those of us in public service, it is a commitment to serve our country. Thank you for your work and your dedication; we would not have this amazing, American space program if it were not for people like you. Have a wonderful and safe holiday and may God bless America!