Another Milestone for the Future of Exploration

Today we made smoke and fire with a rocket engine yet again. The Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, long the front line in testing NASA’s propulsion systems from the Apollo to the shuttle era, is now helping us understand the J-2X engine. The J-2X will power the upper stage of our new Space Launch System (SLS), which will carry the Orion spacecraft, its crew, cargo, equipment and science experiments beyond Earth orbit.

Today’s engine test fire – at nearly 500 seconds, the longest one to date — is one in a series of tests that will provide critical data to help fine tune the engine to maximize performance and provide the SLS with the capability to take humans to new destinations. And it’s not the only activity that NASA has going on around the nation as we open the next great chapter of space exploration.

Earlier this week, we announced that we’re planning an unmanned flight test of the Orion spacecraft in early 2014. This Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, will fly two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere. Orion will make a water landing and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions. The test mission will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to acquire critical re-entry flight performance data and demonstrate early integration capabilities that benefit the Orion, SLS, and 21st Century Ground Systems programs. We’ve posted a synopsis explaining our intention on the NASA procurement website.

Our Langley Research Center in Virginia recently performed another successful drop test of Orion’s landing capabilities in its Hydro Impact Basin. And this year’s Desert RATS activity, where scientists and engineers run tests and simulations in landscapes that mirror other worlds – in this case the desert of Arizona – was designed to gather information for a potential crewed mission to an asteroid.

In an innovative agreement that will create new jobs, NASA has announced a partnership with Space Florida to occupy, use and modify Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility-3, the Space Shuttle Main Engine Processing Facility and Processing Control Center.

Space Florida, the aerospace economic development agency of the state of Florida, has an agreement for use of Orbiter Processing Facility-3 with the Boeing Company to manufacture and test the company’s Crew Space Transportation (CST-100) spacecraft, creating up to 550 jobs along the Space Coast. The 15-year use permit with Space Florida is the latest step Kennedy is making as the center transitions from a historically government-only launch complex to a multi-user spaceport.

Across NASA, scientists, engineers and – yes – new classes of astronauts, are preparing for a future in space at destinations where we’ve never been, marking new achievements in human history as we develop ever more capabilities to do the big things for which NASA is known. It’s going to be a great ride.