NASA Contest Heralds The Dawn Of Electric Plane

In addition to NASA’s missions in space that amaze the world, our work in aeronautics continues to spur innovation and jobs.

NASA is providing the $1.65 million prize purse for the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation Green Flight Challenge competition, sponsored by Google, taking place this week outside of Santa Rosa, Calif.

The purse is the largest aviation prize in history and attracted 13 teams, all led by American innovators. Three teams successfully completed aircraft and flight qualification requirements and are competing for the purse. Teams are flying electric and biofueled powered aircraft to prove they have the most fuel efficient, small aircraft in the world.

To win the competition, an aircraft must fly 200 miles in less than two hours and use less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity.

Why is NASA sponsoring the competition?

NASA-funded prize competitions establish an important goal without having to choose the approach or the team that is most likely to succeed. NASA pays only for results. The competitions highlight excellence in a particular domain of human endeavor to motivate, inspire, and guide others.

NASA prize competitions increase the number and diversity of the individuals, organizations, and teams that are addressing a particular problem or challenge of national or international. They stimulate private sector investment that is many times greater than the cash value of the prize, while furthering NASA’s mission by attracting more interest and attention to a defined program, activity, or issue of concern. And they capture the public imagination and change their perception of what is possible.

Aerospace remains a strong component of our national fabric and is the largest positive contributor to our nation’s trade balance. However, this technological leadership position is not a given. To remain the leader in aerospace technology, we must continue to perform research and invest in the people who will create the breakthroughs of tomorrow.

The CAFE Green Flight Challenge, sponsored by Google, may be the birth of a new segment of the aviation industry. This competition represents the dawn of a new era in efficient flight and is the first time that full-scale electric aircraft have performed in competition. The technologies demonstrated by the winning plane may end up in general aviation aircraft, spawning new jobs and new industries for the 21st century.

For photos of the Green Flight Challenge, visit:

Team members of the e-Genius aircraft prepare their plane prior to competition as part of the 2011 Green Flight Challenge, sponsored by Google, at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif. on Monday, Sept. 26, 2011. NASA and the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation are having the challenge with the goal to advance technologies in fuel efficiency and reduced emissions with cleaner renewable fuels and electric aircraft. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Visiting the Future

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to get a first-hand glimpse at the future of human space exploration.

NASA is working with multiple industry partners so that American companies can develop a capacity for carrying crew and cargo to the International Space Station, stop the outsourcing of this work to foreign governments and create good jobs right here at home. What I saw in Boulder, Colo. was Sierra Nevada’s amazing Dream Chaser vehicle – a kind of space plane that could be soaring into low Earth orbit in the coming years.

Sierra Nevada is one of the participants in NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program, and last week we decided to exercise additional milestones in their agreement with us to accelerate development of their transportation system. The company has already met four of the nine milestones under the CCDev2 Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA, and our amended agreement adds four new milestones — bringing the potential value of Sierra Nevada’s SAA to $105.6 million, if all milestones are completed successfully, to help them create jobs and get our economy back on track.

The Boeing Company, another CCDEV2 participant, also will now pursue additional milestones, and all four of the CCDEV2 participants are performing well. Boeing will receive $112.9 million, if all milestones are reached, money that is being pumped into our economy at a critical time. Transporting crew to the ISS is crucial, and we are focusing hard on ensuring that American companies will be carrying our astronauts and our cargo to space as we ramp up a new era of the station’s potential as an orbiting laboratory without peer. After all, the ISS is the centerpiece of our human space flight activities for the coming years with international crews of six living aboard it 24/7 right now.

Because of the progress Sierra Nevada and our other commercial space partners have made, I am confident that NASA will soon have access to multiple capabilities for reaching low Earth orbit.

And while American innovators open up a new segment of the economy by creating these new capabilities, NASA can focus its energy and resources on deep space exploration.

As President Obama looks for ways to put America back to work, NASA continues to be an engine of job growth and economic opportunity. Our collaborations with private industry are enhancing our ability to design and build the most technologically advanced spacecraft in the world. These partnerships are building an economic sector that will create new high-tech, high-paying jobs in communities like Boulder all across the country – all while ensuring a bright future that ensures America’s leadership in space.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden flies Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser simulator.

Visiting the Johnson Space Center

Today I had the privilege of sharing some time with the dedicated workforce at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. As the command center for our human spaceflight missions – and of course that means the centerpiece of our activities, the International Space Station — Johnson has had a critical role in the many accomplishments of humans living, working and discovering in space. The next chapter of America’s space exploration story is being written today, and Johnson will be on the front lines of that as well.

Johnson Center Director Mike Coats and the entire Johnson team are absolutely dedicated to America’s human spaceflight program. They train our astronauts, support our missions, test our crew capsules keep our nation at the forefront of space exploration.

Mike and I visited a mockup of the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) on which Johnson is working. Orion represents the next great step to destinations farther into the solar system. Powered by the Space Launch System we unveiled recently, Orion will take our astronauts farther into space than ever before, create high-quality jobs here at home and provide the cornerstone for America’s future human space exploration efforts.

In fact, nationwide, the MPCV represents about 2,700 total jobs. Right in Houston that translates to about 1,200 jobs, made up of 400 civil servants and 800 contractors. Combined with the extension of the ISS to at least 2020, mission control in Houston is going to be humming along for a very long time.

I was privileged to be a shuttle commander and there will be many more space explorers to follow. People who are passionate about space, who have been there or who want to go. Who know a lot about the challenges and risks and are there for their colleagues 24/7 as we work to do the big things for which NASA is known, and face the steep challenges of living and working in space that only those who are involved in it can truly appreciate it.

That’s just one of the many valuable things that Johnson has given NASA and the nation.

And as I stood beside Orion, the tangible representation of our future, it reaffirmed my optimism that our best days are ahead. That the excitement of our next destinations will inspire a new generation of explorers, and keep some of us who have been around for a while, working hard and sharing our expertise for a few more years yet as this next grand adventure gets off the ground.

I was proud to fly on the shuttle, but thanks to the efforts of the dedicated professionals at Johnson, tomorrow’s explorers will dream of one day walking on Mars.

So today I salute the Johnson workforce, and all they have done to keep the bigger goals in mind, using the strength and momentum of their long and wonderful history, and the determination they have always exhibited to make America the worldwide leader in space exploration.

For more information about the Orion MPCV, visit:

GRAIL and Jobs

If there’s any doubt that the Space Coast will continue to be open for business, that thought was drowned out by the roar of the latest NASA launch from Florida. NASA’s GRAIL spacecraft, the second major mission to launch from Florida since the final space shuttle flight in July, is on its way to the moon – and it carries the hopes and dreams of a nation with it.

On August 5, NASA launched Juno from Florida on its five-year journey to Jupiter. In November, we will launch the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), Curiosity, a rover that will help us evaluate the likelihood that life has ever existed on Mars and serve as a precursor to a future human mission to the Red Planet. The vast amount of information that GRAIL sends us will be mined by scientists and students for decades to come. With these and many other exciting upcoming missions, it’s clear that NASA is taking its next big leap into deep space exploration, and the space industry continues to provide the jobs and workers needed to support this critical effort.

GRAIL and MSL created good-paying American jobs. More than 3000 people nationwide were employed just on these two missions alone, from spacecraft design and processing through ground operations and ongoing mission management after the spacecraft reach their destinations.

As President Obama looks for ways to put America back to work, NASA continues to be an engine of job growth and economic opportunity. The President has repeatedly stressed that the only way for America to win the future is to out innovate, out educate, and out build our global competitors. Those three goals have been central to NASA’s mission from the beginning. We continue to stretch the boundaries of science and the possible. Our partnerships to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers — to support the jobs of tomorrow — are growing. And our collaborations with private industry are enhancing our ability to design and build the most technologically advanced spacecraft in the world to explore new destinations and take humans farther into space.

The GRAIL mission exemplifies that potential. As GRAIL was being prepared for launch, I visited with the people who were making it possible – the engineers, scientists, mission planners and frontline workers. GRAIL was built by Lockheed Martin, and it is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The mission’s principal investigator comes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. AstroTech, a company in Titusville, Florida, processed the spacecraft and ensured it was ready for its dramatic launch, and United Launch Alliance made sure GRAIL had a textbook ride to orbit on its Delta II rocket.

GRAIL is only the latest in a long line of NASA programs that have brought jobs and opportunity to local communities all across this nation. From California to Florida, the space industry is strong and growing. With the bold new course we are on, that growth will only continue.

For more than 50 years, communities that have partnered with NASA have been the launch pads of American imagination, exploration, and innovation. Our greatest technological breakthroughs and scientific discoveries have been made possible by people who might be your next-door neighbors. And as we invest in space, it is critical to remember that the money we spend to get there is actually spent here on Earth. GRAIL will tell us about the moon’s gravity fields and how our near neighbor formed, from crust to core. That will help us understand our solar system a little better, and help inspire the next generation of exploration leaders. But right here in our back yard, it’s also one more dynamic way that NASA is creating jobs and economic growth.

For more information about GRAIL, visit:


NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, stands in front of the Atlas V first stage booster while taking questions from the media, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The booster will help send NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover to Mars later this year. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)