Talking to Explorers Underwater

Yesterday I placed a call to the explorers currently undertaking a 12-day mission beneath the waves of the Florida Keys to help us test and prove concepts for outer space missions. The 16th crew of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) is focusing their activities on helping us understand what a mission to an asteroid will be like.

The international crew of four aquanauts has been working in its home in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aquarius Reef Base undersea research habitat off the coast of Key Largo, 63 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Aquarius provides a convincing simulation of space exploration, and NEEMO crew members experience some of the same tasks and challenges under water that they would in space.

This crew of NEEMO aquanauts has been investigating communication delays, restraint and translation techniques, and optimum crew size as they relate to a human mission to an asteroid. I was happy to speak to NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger of NASA, and European Space Agency astronaut Timothy Peake as they undertook the final “spacewalk” of the mission. The two are joined in Aquarius by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Kimiya Yui and Steven W. Squyres, Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University and chairman of the NASA Advisory Council. Steve was also a member of the shortened NEEMO 15 mission.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System rocket, which currently are in development, will allow people to begin exploring beyond the boundaries of Earth’s orbit. The first human mission to an asteroid is planned for 2025. Along with the multiple paths on which NASA is working to develop the capabilities to reach farther destinations, NEEMO is one more example of how the future of spaceflight is unfolding right now.

For more information about NEEMO, visit:

The crew gathers in front of the hatch to the Aquarius undersea laboratory on June 11, 2012 for the start of the NEEMO 16 mission. The aquanauts will live in this habitat for two weeks, conducting research and simulating mission activities in the water’s low gravity. Credit: Mark Widick.

NASA Working with Other Federal Agencies to Develop Common Guidelines for Title IX Compliance

At a White House meeting in advance of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, NASA Associate Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity, Brenda Manuel, was named to an interagency board tasked with developing common compliance guidance for grant recipient institutions. Title IX was signed into law in 1972, requiring equal access to all educational programs and activities of a school, university or other entity receiving federal financial assistance. A White House statement noted that, “At a time when many universities barred the admission of women and when female sports teams were scarce, Title IX marked a momentous shift for women’s equality in classrooms, on playing fields, and in communities throughout our nation.”

NASA has long recognized the importance of Title IX as a means for ensuring equal opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) fields to which we provide federal dollars. And while 40 years after its enactment, more women than men graduate from college with bachelor’s degrees, women’s participation in the STEM fields remains disproportionately low.

That is why, beginning in 2004, NASA began conducting compliance reviews of its educational grant recipient institutions to ensure they were in compliance with Title IX requirements. In 2009, in an effort to provide more extensive and meaningful assistance to our grantees, NASA issued a publication called “Title IX and STEM: Promising Practices for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” In doing so, NASA moved beyond compliance-only reviews to also provide examples of successful university STEM programs and practices.

As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, I am pleased to announce the issuance of NASA’s newest Title IX publication, “Title IX and STEM: A Guide for Conducting Title IX Self-Evaluations.” This publication has been designed as a tool to help our grant recipients understand and use Title IX compliance assessments, complete with data analysis and questions to be answered, to improve their STEM programs. Our work on this publication is one of the reasons NASA was asked to join the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Health and Human Services in a consolidated effort to develop common guidelines for grant institutions to comply with Title IX.

In addition to serving on this interagency board we are moving ahead to provide copies of our newest Title IX publication to all of our college and university grant recipients, which now number around 350. We have posted an electronic version of the publication on our NASA website. This will soon be followed by an interactive version of the document, which will allow users to record comments and answers to questions as they review their programs. It will also provide a data tool to facilitate analysis of student statistics.

I am tremendously proud of NASA’s accomplishments with regard to Title IX. By helping universities create and sustain welcoming and inclusive program environments, we play an important role in building America’s STEM workforce of the future. Forty years after the passage of Title IX, NASA remains true to its vision that every American, male or female, with an interest in STEM has every opportunity to pursue his or her dream of choice – and succeed.

To view our new publication, visit:


Witnessing the Future Today

I had an opportunity this week to visit the men and women at SpaceX, who along with their NASA teammates, are writing the next chapter of American space exploration history. SpaceX head Elon Musk and I inspected the historic Dragon spacecraft in McGregor, Texas, and saw the cargo that had been returned from the International Space Station. It was great to see tangible proof that the course we’re on allowing private industry to take over transportation to low-Earth orbit is sound and moving forward.

I also had a chance to visit the team at SpaceX’s headquarters in California, where the Dragon that first orbited the Earth in 2010 is housed, and congratulate them on the hard work they are doing on behalf of our nation. The door to commercial space is swinging broadly open thanks to the dedication and innovation of our industry partners.

President Obama has challenged us to develop capabilities to reach new destinations deeper in space and help our commercial partners take on the challenges of travel to low Earth orbit, and we’re doing just that.

SpaceX and our other industry partners are meeting that challenge, creating jobs and freeing up NASA to focus on missions to an asteroid and Mars.

The Dragon spacecraft I saw in Texas made history. But the real story is the people behind it who worked tirelessly to make this milestone a reality and even now are planning for the next mission and taking a hard look at what will be necessary for transport of crew. It started out as a Spacex team, working with our NASA team. But when the mission was complete, it was an American team, one that can achieve the impossible and help keep the United States the world leader in space exploration.

We’re making rapid progress toward renewing our nation’s capability to launch American astronauts to space from American soil using systems built by American companies. SpaceX and all of our commercial partners represent the best of American ingenuity. They’re going to open up space to more people and give our nation more capabilities to reach higher.

NASA’s commitment to American space transportation systems and the passion and dedication of our commercial partners are surely writing new pages of history. And it’s a living history because much more is to come.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, and SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk, view the historic Dragon capsule that returned to Earth on May 31 following the first successful mission by a private company to carry supplies to the International Space Station on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas.  Bolden and Musk also thanked the more than 150 SpaceX employees working at the McGregor facility for their role in the historic mission. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, and SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk, view the historic Dragon capsule that returned to Earth on May 31 following the first successful mission by a private company to carry supplies to the International Space Station on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas. Bolden and Musk also thanked the more than 150 SpaceX employees working at the McGregor facility for their role in the historic mission. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk congratulated workers Thursday at the company’s Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters on the successful flight of the Dragon spacecraft in May — the first mission by a commercial company to resupply the International Space Station. The capsule behind them is the Dragon spacecraft that flew on a demonstration mission in December 2010, during which SpaceX became the first private company to recover a spacecraft after it orbited Earth. Photo credit: (NASA/Michael Cabbage)

Progress on the Space Launch System Engines

Today, I visited the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. PWR is working with NASA to help us realize our deep space exploration goals and send humans farther into our solar system than ever before. The work they are doing is a critical component to the success of the Space Launch System (SLS), an advanced heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. Their work on the RS-25 engines will power the SLS core stage. They are also developing the J-2X engine to power the upper stage of the SLS.

PWR is one of our innovative industry partners helping us write the next chapter of our future and meet the President’s challenge to visit an asteroid by the mid-2020s, send humans to Mars in the 2030s, and create jobs right here on Earth. All of this exciting work will lead us to important new discoveries and take us to destinations we’ve never visited.

At the same time I was touring the West Palm Beach campus, the PWR-built J-2X engine powerpack was being tested at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. This record-breaking test lasted 19-minute and 10-seconds, longer than any other J-2X test to date. This test is a step in preparing for future long duration space missions. I look forward to our continuing work with PWR and our other industry partners to create a bright future for exploration.

J-2X powerpack test, Friday, June 8. Photo credit: NASA/SSC