Monthly Archives: October 2012

American Ingenuity at Its Best

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With a big splash in the Pacific Ocean today, we are reminded that American ingenuity is alive and well and keeping our great nation at the cutting edge of innovation and technology development. Just a little over one year after we retired the Space Shuttle, we have completed the first cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. Not with a government owned and operated system, but rather with one built by a private firm – an American company that is creating jobs and helping keep the U.S. the world leader in space as we transition to the next exciting chapter in exploration.

Congratulations to SpaceX and the NASA team that supported them and made this historic mission possible. With the successful return of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule – the first of at least 12 cargo resupply missions – we’ve brought space station resupply missions back to American soil. Under President Obama’s leadership, NASA initiatives are helping develop a robust U.S. commercial space transportation industry with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from the space station and low Earth orbit. In addition to cargo flights, NASA’s commercial space partners also are making progress toward launch of our astronauts from the U.S. again in just a few years.

A new era of space exploration is underway, with the commercial spaceflight milestones like we see today, and the recent opening of the nation’s newest American spaceport in Virginia, from which Orbital Sciences will launch its space station resupply missions. NASA’s other commercial partners like Sierra Nevada, Boeing, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance are making progress on an array of systems and technologies to open the next generation of low Earth transport to more users.

By allowing the private sector to take over routine transportation to the space station and other low-Earth orbit destinations, NASA can focus on the things that are too big for any one company to do right now — send our astronauts back around the Moon, to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. The Space Launch System that will carry astronauts once again to deep space and the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle in which they’ll travel are also making great progress, and in 2014, partnering with our prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, we’ll test fly Orion out to the reaches of space where the Apollo astronauts once traveled.

However, in order to focus on these deep space missions, we must have a successful partnership with private industry to take our astronauts and their cargo to the International Space Station. This is critically important to insource jobs, stimulate the economy and continue to bring crew and cargo launches back to U.S. soil, ensuring that American companies are transporting our astronauts and their supplies.

With today’s mission, we’ve closed the loop and demonstrated that American industry is ready to step up to the plate and meet our needs for transport to low Earth orbit. This work will transform our relationship to space, save money and create jobs. America remains the leader in space and technology development. A driving force toward a bright and innovative future for this nation, and an inspiration for generations to come. And we’ve just begun our march to the future.

The Next Era of Space Exploration Has Begun

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Over the past few days, we’ve taken significant steps to implement America’s ambitious new space exploration plan, with progress made on our deep space exploration program, the rollout of another commercial rocket, and discoveries on Mars that will guide our way on future missions to the Red Planet with U.S. astronauts.

Today, we announced contract awards to improve the affordability, reliability, and performance of an advanced booster for the Space Launch System (SLS) — the rocket that will launch humans on missions of deep space exploration. The companies selected will develop engineering demonstrations and risk reduction concepts that will inform our work on this crucial system that will help us reach those destinations farther in our solar system.

The initial 77-ton (70-metric-ton) SLS configuration will use two 5-segment solid rocket boosters similar to those that helped power the space shuttle to orbit. The evolved 143-ton (130-metric-ton) SLS vehicle will require an advanced booster with more thrust than any existing U.S. liquid- or solid-fueled boosters. These new initiatives will demonstrate and examine advanced booster concepts and hardware demonstrations during a 30-month period.

The Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle in which astronauts will travel to these deep space destinations recently completed a set of tests to simulate various water landing scenarios to account for different velocities, parachute deployments, entry angles, wave heights, and wind conditions the spacecraft may encounter when landing in the Pacific Ocean. The next round of water impact testing is scheduled to begin in late 2013 using a full-sized model that was built to validate the flight vehicle’s production processes and tools. In 2014, Orion will make its first test flight to simulate re-entry from a lunar mission. As the next class of astronauts is selected, NASA continues to ensure they will be able to travel to low Earth orbit as well as other destinations farther into our solar system.

However, in order to focus on these deep space missions, we must have a successful partnership with private industry to take our astronauts and their cargo to the International Space Station. This is critically important to insource jobs, stimulate the economy, and bring crew and cargo launches back to U.S. soil, ensuring that American companies are transporting our astronauts and their supplies.

Today’s rollout of Orbital Sciences’ Antares test vehicle to the launch pad at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia marks yet another milestone in the development of the commercial cargo resupply program. Next Sunday in Florida, SpaceX plans to launch the first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station, marking the return of cargo launches to America’s shores.

We look forward to Orbital soon joining SpaceX in regular service missions to the space station and helping our international crews continue the breakthroughs in human health and technology that will help us travel farther.

In addition to this extraordinary progress, all eyes continue to be on Mars — and the Curiosity rover does not disappoint. Last week, we announced an incredible new finding — one of many to come that we know will transform our understanding of the Red Planet and help pave the way for human landings there.

Curiosity has found evidence a stream once ran vigorously across the area on Mars where the rover is driving. Such a running stream could have provided an environment hospitable to life. There is earlier evidence for the presence of water on Mars, but this evidence — images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravels — is the first of its kind. During the two-year prime mission of the rover, researchers will use Curiosity’s 10 instruments to investigate whether other areas in Gale Crater have ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. All of this furthers scientific discovery, but also paves the way for human exploration in the not-too-distant future.

It’s been a great few days, but we’ve only just begun to carry out the ambitious exploration plan to which President Obama and Congress have agreed, positioning America to continue to lead the world in space and changing the way we see our home planet.