The Next Great Chapter of Exploration

Today I had the opportunity to share the stage with a true legend, Sen. John Glenn. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of his historic space flight – the first time an American had orbited Earth. The event was part of NASA’s ongoing series of Future Forums, in which we discuss possibilities — the things we’re already able to accomplish and the new capabilities for which we strive. I can think of no person better suited to discuss that broad continuum than John Glenn.

We were in John’s home state of Ohio where NASA’s Glenn Research Center is honoring its namesake by helping us pioneer the next generation of technologies to help us reach destinations farther in the solar system. These are technologies such as advanced communications; in-space propulsion; cryogenic fluids management; and power, energy storage, and conversion. The center’s work is part of our work to expand our nation’s capabilities to explore and reach new destinations including an asteroid and Mars.

John Glenn was there when NASA was racing to the stars as part of the Cold War. Later, John returned to NASA, for the second big wave of human spaceflight, the Space Shuttle Program, and showed us once again that we could broaden our sights – that older people could fly in space, something we’d long wanted to know more about as we contemplate longer term human presence in space aboard the International Space Station and in other parts of the solar system.

Each step along the way in the space program, we’ve learned vital things that have guided us to the next steps, maybe changed our minds about what was next. But always, we’ve been learning.

Today’s space program is vital and alive. It is full of men and women who are passionately dedicated to space and keeping America the leader in its exploration and expanding John’s legacy.

All around the nation there is tangible evidence of our progress: from the upcoming first-ever launch and berthing of a capsule to the Station by a private company, to the test firings of the J-2X engine that will power our deep space rocket’s upper stage, to the transformation of the Kennedy Space Center to a 21st Century Launch Complex able to support many science and eventually crewed flights.

We’re fortunate to have a stable NASA budget of $17.7 billion for FY2013, which President Obama submitted a week ago. It supports a robust space program capable of innovative improvements to benefit life here on Earth and ensure a bright future. It was an honor to hear from John Glenn, and to consider his wisdom along with those across the aerospace field today — the scientists and engineers, the students and educators at the Future Forum. All of us are opening the next great chapter of exploration today.