NASA Ranks High in Federal Leadership Challenge

This morning, the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization, released rankings from the Federal Leadership Challenge, and I’m delighted to report that NASA scored very well. We do big, amazing things at NASA, but it’s our outstanding people that make it all possible.

These rankings are drawn from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Employee Viewpoint Survey of more than 150,000 executive branch employees. I want to thank NASA employees for sharing their experience with OPM. This benchmark lets us – the managers, supervisors and senior leadership of NASA – know how we are doing.

I am pleased that we rank near the top of the list, but there is always room for improvement – and I will continue to work to make NASA one of the best places to work in the government.

We have a clear, defined mission, and strong support from the country to accomplish our goals. What we do at NASA captures the imagination of the nation, and impacts lives every day. Our future is bright because of the ingenuity and know-how of the best workforce in the federal government.

NASA Reaching for New Heights

By Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator and John Holdren, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

In his gloomy Washington Post commentary today on yesterday’s ceremony transferring ownership of the Space Shuttle Discovery from NASA to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Charles Krauthammer urged readers to think of that transfer as the funeral for U.S. leadership in space. Nothing could be further from the truth. The United States remains far and away the world leader in space technology and exploration. As long as appropriate support continues to be forthcoming from Congress, this will remain the case indefinitely.

Krauthammer suggests that if China succeeds in putting astronauts on the Moon by 2025, as that country plans, they will have “overtaken” the United States. How absurd! Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon in 1969. How does China managing this feat fifty-six years later, if this happens, amount to “overtaking” us? Obviously, the United States could repeat its lunar feats of the 1960s and 1970s if that were the next most important thing to do in space exploration for the money. But it isn’t! We may well return to the lunar surface again as one of many destinations in the future, but for now, our immediate, more scientifically rewarding goals include sending astronauts to an asteroid in the 2020s, and Mars in the mid-2030s. They bring scientific and technological challenges worthy of a great nation and a true world leader.

Krauthammer doesn’t even mention the International Space Station. The United States led the planning, design, and construction of this $53 billion marvel – an orbiting science and technology-development laboratory that has been continuously manned since 2000. Under the previous administration’s plan, it was underfunded after 2016, implying intent to abandon it long before its scientific and engineering potential had been realized. Under the new bipartisan space-exploration plans worked out between the Obama Administration and the Congress, we will continue to operate the Space Station until at least 2020 and perhaps beyond.

In robotic space exploration, too, nobody else comes close. At this very moment, a stream of data is flowing to us from missions orbiting the Sun, Mercury, the Moon, the asteroid Vesta, Mars, and Saturn. We now have missions on the way to Jupiter, Pluto and Mars. The Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, and Fermi space telescopes continue to make groundbreaking discoveries on an almost daily basis. We’re on track in the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope, the most sophisticated science telescope ever constructed to help us reveal the mysteries of the cosmos in ways never before possible. Last year, the MESSENGER spacecraft became the first-ever to enter orbit around Mercury. And shortly thereafter, the Ebb and Flow satellites began orbiting and mapping the gravity field of the Moon.

We are ahead in looking downward from space as well as in looking outward. Sixteen Earth-science missions currently in orbit study the Earth as an integrated system. In 2011, Aquarius SAC-D produced the first global view of ocean surface salinity and the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite began making observations of Earth’s weather and climate. No other country can match our capabilities in Earth observation from space.

Declining to remind readers that it was President Bush, not President Obama who ended the shuttle program (President Obama actually added 2 flights), Krauthammer carps about the Bush Administration’s successor to the Space Shuttle having been cancelled in this Administration, but the Bush “Constellation” program as designed was behind schedule and over budget – “unexecutable” in the words of the independent blue-ribbon commission set up by the Obama Administration to review our options. In cancelling Constellation per se, we have kept the parts of it that made sense. A new heavy-lift rocket and multi-purpose crew vehicle developed out of the Constellation program will be instrumental in carrying U.S. astronauts to an asteroid, to other deep-space destinations, and ultimately to Mars.

When Krauthammer complains about the expanded role for the private sector in carrying U.S. astronauts and cargo to the Space Station, as foreseen in the current bipartisan plan and as is progressing well in practice, he seems unaware that every U.S. launch vehicle and space capsule in history – including the Space Shuttle – has been built by private corporations. That is continuing, but on a more competitive basis. Indeed, in the same week as Discovery’s transfer to the Smithsonian, NASA gave the green light to a commercial company, SpaceX, for a planned April 30 launch from Kennedy Space Center, with a berthing at the ISS a few days later. Later this year, Orbital Sciences will launch their Cygnus module and Antares launch vehicle from Wallops Island, Virginia. In FY 2013, NASA plans for at least three flights delivering research and logistics hardware to the ISS by U.S.-developed cargo delivery systems.

It should also be noted that NASA’s focus on new space technologies is seeding innovation, supporting economic vitality and helping create new jobs and expanded opportunities for a skilled workforce.

We understand that in this election year, there are some who will go out of their way to paint a pessimistic view of the country in order to score political points. But, we believe that America’s technological advancement and continued leadership in space exploration is too important to fall prey to political distortions.

Our Shuttle program was an historic achievement, but an even brighter future is on the horizon. Make no mistake about it – the future in space is happening right now, and it is being built right here in America.

Strengthening America’s Leadership in Space Exploration

This post was updated on 4/4/12.

On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a story that captured some of what the space shuttle era meant to Florida’s Space Coast. Unfortunately, the piece also missed an awful lot of important context about the end of that era and where we’re headed from here.

As a former shuttle astronaut and the Administrator of NASA, nobody has higher regard for the incredible men and women who worked on the Space Shuttle Program. And I certainly understand that for some of those men and women, this transitional period will not be easy.

But before we get to what we’re doing, it is important to remember the context of how we came to our current circumstances. After the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, the previous Administration decided in 2004 to end the Space Shuttle Program by 2010. President Obama decided to add two space shuttle missions to the program’s life, prolonging its retirement into 2011 and found a way to keep the International Space Station operating much longer into the future. This will allow for productive utilization of the ISS.

To get the best options on the table for the next era of American space exploration, the President convened an independent commission of experts. The committee found that the previous Administration’s plan for exploration in the post-shuttle era was not viable under any feasible budget scenario. It was behind schedule, over budget, would have removed funding from the space station program in 2016 after its construction was completed, and would have widened the gap in time we relied on foreign countries for our human launch capabilities.

President Obama took a hard look at the facts and put in place our current plan, laid out in a speech at Kennedy Space Center in April 2010. This plan is a fundamental new kind of partnership in U.S. space exploration that leverages the innovation and adaptability of the American private sector for access to the ISS, allowing NASA to focus on deep space exploration and technological advances.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is headquartered at the Kennedy Space Center and the prospective companies involved are making substantial progress toward achieving crewed spaceflight.

The first four of these firms participating in our Commercial Crew Development Program (CCDev) have already completed over 60 percent of the milestones on their spacecraft designs during the earlier phases of the CCDev now nearing completion.

One of the companies, SpaceX, has made significant financial investment in its commercial cargo and crew systems, a significant commitment to this emerging industry.

Late last year, Boeing announced an agreement with NASA and the State of Florida to lease one of the space shuttle processing facilities at Kennedy to manufacture and assemble its next-generation space capsule, creating hundreds of jobs in the process.

In 2012, we will see the first commercial cargo flights to the ISS, and with Congressional approval of the funding requested by President Obama in our FY2013 budget request, we are on track to have American companies transporting our astronauts to the station sooner than would likely have happened under the previous Administration’s plan – ending the outsourcing of this work while creating U.S. jobs now.

NASA last year selected the design for the most powerful rocket ever to be built – the Space Launch System – that will eventually carry U.S. astronauts and crucial cargo into deep space. This new deep space rocket will be processed, stacked and launched at the Kennedy, supporting thousands of jobs in the Space Coast.

The next-generation deep space capsule, Orion, is a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle to ferry astronauts beyond the Earth’s orbit to an asteroid, Mars and other destinations and will undergo final construction, integration and eventual launch at Kennedy. The entry flight test vehicle will arrive at Kennedy in June to begin processing towards its 2014 test flight, which will test the heat shield system for the high speed reentries from beyond low Earth orbit.

We are also committed to revamping America’s space infrastructure on the ground and recognize Florida’s unrivaled importance to our nation’s activities in space, both its legacy and its future. That’s why the President’s budget includes investing in NASA’s 21st Century Space Launch Complex, a multi-million dollar effort to modernize and transform the launch infrastructure at Kennedy to benefit current and future users.

With all of these elements now in place, and with the help of the Congress, we are confidently moving forward as quickly as possible with the next great phase of America’s human expansion into the solar system.

As the President has said, this Administration will not rest until every American who wants a job can find one. Encouragingly, we’re making some real progress. Just last week it was reported that Brevard County added nearly 2,300 jobs in February. Unemployment in the county was down for the 6th straight month, and as Florida Today reported, it’s “the lowest rate on the Space Coast since May 2009.”

Certainly we know much work remains. But the men and women of NASA, the Space Coast and the country should know that the President and I wake up every day thinking about ways to create jobs, grow the economy and continue America’s global leadership in the 21st century.