President Obama’s National Space Transportation Policy: A Bold Vision for Space

The President has signed an updated National Space Transportation Policy, which ensures that the United States remains the world’s leader in space exploration and scientific discovery, while positioning America to out-innovate our competitors and inspire the next generation of technology leaders.  This plan codifies the current, bipartisan priorities of NASA and provides further direction to other Federal agencies in realizing the President’s bold vision for space.

Under the policy, NASA will continue to lead the expansion of a domestic commercial space industry for low-Earth orbit transportation, while developing a heavy lift launch capability to take humans further than they have ever explored – to an asteroid in the next decade and to Mars by the 2030s.

NASA is well on its way to fulfilling many of the goals of this policy.  Last week, we announced that our Commercial Cargo program has completed all of its milestones and the two companies under contract to NASA, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, have begun cargo delivery to the International Space Station. 

Our next step is successful commercial crew milestones.  NASA is committed to launching U.S. astronauts aboard domestic spacecraft as soon as possible.  Already, we have tasked three companies, SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada to develop spacecraft capable of safely transporting humans to the space station, returning that capability to the United States where it belongs.

This week, the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) requested proposals from companies to develop crew transportation systems that meet NASA certification requirements and begin conducting crewed flights to the space station. This phase of the CCP, called Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap), will enable NASA to certify that a company’s crew transportation system is safe, reliable and cost-effective.  The certification process will assess progress throughout the production and testing of one or more integrated space transportation systems, which include rockets, spacecraft and ground operations. Requirements under CCtCap also will include at least one crewed flight demonstration test to the space station before certification can be granted.

The President’s updated policy ensures the availability of domestic space transportation capabilities that are reliable, efficient, affordable, innovative and competitive, in support of national security, civil, scientific and economic interests.  The policy also advocates for advancements in space technologies to expand the Nations’ capabilities in the skies and in space, fuel economic growth, create new jobs and reinforce opportunities for a skilled American aerospace workforce.

The development of a commercial space sector for low-Earth orbit transportation is freeing NASA to develop a heavy lift launch capability to travel further into space than ever before. NASA has already made steady progress on the development of the next generation heavy lift launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS).  NASA is also well on its way to developing the Orion crew capsule, which will take astronauts further into deep space than humans have ever explored.  Next year, NASA will launch the first test flight of the Orion crew capsule. The President’s budget request fully funds NASA’s development of these next generation systems, which will carry U.S. astronauts on deep space exploration missions to an asteroid and Mars. Full funding of the President’s request will enable an uncrewed flight test of Orion in 2014 and the SLS in 2017.

Commercial Space Program Keeps Flame of Exploration Burning

When I saw the Olympic torch on its first spacewalk in history this past Saturday, I was reminded of NASA’s 50-plus years as the world’s undisputed leader in space exploration. Today, we have more evidence of that leadership. After more than 10 years of hard work, milestones and successes, NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program is passing the torch. 

Orbital's Antares takes off on a test flight. NASA photo by Bill Ingalls.
Orbital’s Antares takes off on a test flight. NASA photo by Bill Ingalls.




A little more than two years after the end of the Space Shuttle Program, two American companies, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California and Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. have restored American capability to deliver and return experiments and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), replacing our reliance on foreign providers. Their successes mark the conclusion of the COTS program and clear the way for both companies to begin providing regular transportation services to the ISS.

These achievements did not happen by chance. They are the result of strong, bipartisan leadership by the Obama and Bush Administrations, and extraordinary execution by the men and women at NASA and our partners in the private sector. This is a great example of continuity across Administrations when the good of the nation takes front and center. Building on this public-private partnership model, President Obama has invested in an even more ambitious plan to have American companies transport our astronauts to the ISS on spacecraft launched from U.S. soil, ending the outsourcing of this work overseas. It is now critically important to get full funding from Congress, to keep us on track to begin these launches in 2017.

A SpaceX Dragon capsule is grappled by the International Space Station.
A SpaceX Dragon capsule is grappled by the International Space Station.

SpaceX completed its COTS development with a demonstration mission to the space station in 2012. Since then, the company has flown the first two of 12 contracted cargo resupply flights to the space station through a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.

Orbital Sciences ended its development phase in October, with a successful demonstration mission to the space station. Orbital is poised to launch the first of its eight cargo resupply missions to the space station in December through its $1.9 billion CRS contract with NASA.
Throughout the COTS program, NASA’s partners achieved a number of important spaceflight firsts for the U.S. commercial space industry. This included the first commercial spacecraft to orbit and return to Earth to earth in tact, achieved by SpaceX. The company also was the first commercial provider to resupply the space station. Orbital Sciences was the first company to launch to the space station from Virginia, beginning its mission from the new Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia Eastern Shore.

Safe, reliable and affordable commercial access to low-Earth orbit is a critical component of NASA’s parallel path for human exploration. To that end, we are passing the torch of innovation to our partners in our Commercial Crew Program. Three companies, Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada are hard at work developing the next generation of U.S. spacecraft and rockets capable of transporting humans to and from low-Earth orbit from American soil. NASA intends to use new commercial capabilities to fly U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station within the next four years. Next week, the agency will issue a final Request for Proposals for contracts designed to ensure commercial companies meet NASA’s safety requirements for transporting NASA crews to the space station.

America’s best days in space exploration are ahead of us thanks to the grit and determination of those in government – and the private sector – who dare to dream big dreams, and have the skills to turn them into reality.

My congratulations to SpaceX, Orbital and the entire NASA workforce for the success of our COTS program. Because of your Olympian efforts, NASA continues to keep the torch of exploration burning and we keep bringing home the gold.

To watch a video about COTS accomplishments, visit:

Kepler: Reminding the World Why We Continue to Explore

 This week NASA is holding a conference of 400 scientists from around the world to discuss the findings that continue to emerge from our amazing Kepler mission.

NASA Administrator Charles BoldenThese scientists, both inside and outside government, will continue to explore potential planets outside our solar system for years to come based on the spacecraft’s groundbreaking work.

Conference participants are reporting many amazing findings. Among these include a stunning result, which found that there may be many more Earth-like planets than previously thought in the Milky Way that reside in the “habitable zone.”

The science that Kepler has made possible reminds us just how important NASA’s work is to understanding our universe – and why we need to continue to push the boundaries of exploration.

Kepler was designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine what fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy might have such planets.

Although the Kepler mission ceased operation earlier this year, we’ve already confirmed 167 planets orbiting stars in other solar systems, with the planet candidates list currently standing at 3538.

As NASA plans missions to an asteroid and Mars, and just marked 13 years of continuous habitation aboard the International Space Station, we’re learning to live and work off planet for the long term.

We’re working hard to revolutionize humanity’s ability to reach and live in other places than our home planet, and these Kepler findings are a fascinating reminder that there may be other worlds like ours that could also harbor life or be habitable.

While we continue to learn more about these worlds, missions like Juno and New Horizons will magnify our understanding of worlds closer to us.

MAVEN, launching later this month, will add to our growing body of knowledge about Mars in preparation for a human mission there in the 2030s.

Before that, NASA plans to locate and redirect an asteroid to lunar orbit where astronauts can visit one of these ancient building blocks of the solar system by 2025.

These incredible achievements would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but with our steady and strategic investments in science, technology and human exploration we continue to build a space program that leads the world in scientific discovery and technology.

I congratulate the Kepler team on their continued discoveries and look forward to science and exploration working together to help NASA write the next chapter of the human experience.