Today I had the pleasure of meeting with two groups of workers in Alabama that are critical to ushering in NASA’s new era of spaceflight. First, I met with one of NASA’s key commercial partners — the team at United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Alabama. I went there to talk about the progress we are making to return NASA space launches to U.S. soil, develop the next generation of spacecraft that will take us farther than ever before, and continue our cutting edge science missions.
Just last month, NASA announced that ULA has completed the fifth and final milestone for its Commercial Crew Development Round 2 agreement with the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
With the completion of these milestones, ULA establishes a technical foundation for potentially certifying its Atlas V rocket for crewed missions. It also marks the development of the design criteria for the rocket’s emergency detection system, which would allow crew members to escape if something were to go wrong with either the launch vehicle or spacecraft.
The development of a commercial crew industry is critical for NASA because it will ensure we launch American astronauts from U.S. soil, fueled by American ingenuity, American companies and American workers. This new way of doing business will also reduce the cost of missions to low Earth orbit while allowing NASA to focus our resources on deep space missions back around the moon, to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.
The other team I met with is hard at work on doing just that. Just down the road from ULA at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, NASA workers are developing our Space Launch System that will provide an entirely new capability for deep space human exploration.
Designed to be flexible for launching payloads and spacecraft, including NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will take humans beyond low Earth orbit, SLS will enable the agency to meet the Obama Administration’s goal of sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s.
My visits to ULA and Marshall gave me a chance to see NASA’s new era in spaceflight taking shape. And more importantly, I got to meet some of the exceptional men and women who are bringing it to life.