NASA Astronaut Candidates at the White House

Today, the eight members of NASA’s newest astronaut candidate class are at the White House, meeting more than 100 of the future astronauts, scientists and engineers of America.  As they begin two years of pre-flight training, astronaut candidates John A. Cassada; Victor J. Glover; Tyler N. Hague; Christina M. Hammock; Nicole Aunapu Mann; Anne C. McClain and Andrew R. Morgan have traveled to Washington to participate on a panel at the second annual State of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (SoSTEM) event held the day following President Obama’s State of the Union address. Convened by Director of the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, John P. Holdren, SoSTEM brings together some of the nation’s leading STEM “doers, innovators and thinkers” to promote STEM education as essential to America’s technological and economic future.  A highlight of this year’s event is the opportunity for about 100 local middle-and high-school students to ask questions of our newest astronaut candidates in a panel discussion moderated by Joe Acaba, a teacher-astronaut who has logged 138 days in space during two missions.

The appearance by our astronaut candidates highlights two important NASA priorities – our strong support of STEM education and the importance of human spaceflight to America’s continuing technological leadership in space and on Earth in the 21st century.

For more than 50 years, NASA astronauts have symbolized that leadership and inspired countless young people to study STEM. The current eight astronaut candidates were selected from a pool of more than 6,000 applicants, the second largest in NASA history. The group is in a two-year training process, which includes technical activities at space centers and remote locations around the globe.  The training is designed to prepare them for missions that will help the agency push the boundaries of exploration and travel to new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and Mars.

Every NASA astronaut, as well as the thousands of scientists and engineers who support our missions are rooted in STEM education. I am pleased that our astronaut candidates are in Washington to help us support the President’s vision for STEM and to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with students.

Earth Right Now — A Year of New Missions

Earth Science is crucial to NASA’s mission, and our discoveries about our home planet improve life here and help decision makers around the world become better environmental stewards.  For the first time in more than a decade, five NASA Earth science missions will be launched into space in the same year, providing new insights into our changing planet – and making 2014 “The Year of Earth.”

The five launches are part of an active year for NASA Earth science, which also includes airborne campaigns to the poles and hurricanes, development of advanced sensor technologies, and the use of satellite observations and data analysis tools to improve natural hazard and climate change preparedness.  As we prepare for future missions to an asteroid and Mars, our immediate focus for this year is on Earth.

NASA satellites, aircraft and research help scientists find answers to critical challenges facing our planet today and in the future, including climate change, sea level rise, freshwater resources and extreme weather events.

The launches coming up this year begin with Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) on Feb. 27 from Japan. That mission will set a new standard for precipitation measurements from space, providing observations of rain and snow worldwide several times a day.  This will be followed by ISS-RapidScat in June to measure ocean surface wind speed and direction and help improve weather forecasts, including hurricane monitoring.  Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, launching in July, will acquire precise measurements of atmospheric CO2.  ISS Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) in September will measure the location, composition and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, aerosols and other particulates in the atmosphere.  Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) in November will provide global measurements of soil moisture.  Later this year, we also begin the third year of science flights from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia of our Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to study hurricanes across the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

These diverse missions will join our unparalleled fleet of 16 Earth-observing satellites currently collecting valuable data to add to a long-term record of scientific information about our home planet, Earth.  Together, they form a coordinated series of satellite and airborne missions making long-term global observations of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere and oceans.  This coordinated approach enables an improved understanding of Earth as an integrated system with many complex interactions.  These missions help build bridges of cooperation across the globe as observers on the ground share their insights and add them to space-based observations.  This also makes it possible for scientists across borders to share their findings about our Earth’s unified system.

We live in an era when our Earth-observing satellites circle the globe many times each day, gathering data in real time.  After having the privilege of flying shuttle missions and seeing Earth from the vantage point of space, I’ll never forget observing our fragile planet from above with no visible political borders, only those established by the oceans and mountains and other geography.  It’s a permanent reminder that our planet belongs to everyone, and we each have a responsibility to help protect it.

For NASA, that means making Earth science a priority investment.  Our efforts in this area sponsor research, collect new observations, develop technologies and extend science and technology education to learners of all ages.  It’s one of the cornerstones of our work, and I hope the entire NASA Family will join me in tracking the progress of these important missions and celebrating the greater knowledge of our planet they’ll make possible in 2014 – “The Year of Earth.”

Obama Administration Extends International Space Station Until at Least 2024

Posted by Charles Bolden and John P. Holdren

As more than 30 heads of space agencies from around the world prepare to gather in Washington January 9-10 for an unprecedented summit on the future of space exploration, we are pleased to announce that the Obama Administration has approved an extension of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2024.  We are hopeful and optimistic that our ISS partners will join this extension effort and thus enable continuation of the groundbreaking research being conducted in this unique orbiting laboratory for at least another decade.

The extension of ISS operation will allow NASA and the international space community to accomplish a number of important goals.

First, it will allow NASA to complete necessary research activities aboard the ISS in support of planned long-duration human missions beyond low-Earth orbit—including our planned human mission to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s.  NASA has determined that research on ISS is necessary to mitigate fully 21 of the 32 human-health risks anticipated on long-duration missions.  A related critical function of ISS is testing the technologies and spacecraft systems necessary for humans to safely and productively operate in deep space.  Extending ISS until 2024 will give us the necessary time to bring these systems to maturity.

Second, ISS extension will extend the broader flow of societal benefits from research on the Station.  Research conducted on the ISS has already resulted in a number of discoveries with significant medical and industrial implications.  Medical examples include potential vaccines for Salmonella and antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, and a microencapsulation technique for delivering cancer treatment drugs to tumors without affecting healthy cells. Additionally, technologies advanced by the ISS have led to robotic surgical techniques that are opening the door to successful removal of tumors that were previously considered inoperable.

A further benefit of ISS extension is it will give NASA and its private-sector partners time to more fully transition to the commercial space industry the transportation of cargo and crew to low-Earth-orbit, allowing NASA to continue to increase its focus on developing the next-generation heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule necessary for deep-space exploration.

Two American companies are already under contract to resupply the ISS.  The current cargo contracts will end in the 2016/2017 timeframe, but the extension of ISS to at least 2024 will allow many more flights to be added to the ISS cargo services contract, resulting in more competitive pricing, possible additional new private-sector bidders, and ultimately more U.S. commercial satellite launches.

Launching American astronauts to the space station from U.S. soil has also been a top priority of the Obama Administration, and we’re making great strides toward certifying private companies to transport our astronauts into orbit.  With the first commercial crew flight scheduled for 2017, some had questioned the value of a commercial crew investment that would have lasted only three years.  Extending ISS to 2024, with a concomitant increased number of flights, will drive down the per-flight cost and make this investment even more attractive.

The ISS is also playing an increasingly important role in the study ofthe Earth and its changing climate.  In the next few years, the ISS will host several Earth- and space-science instruments, including the Stratospheric Aerosols and Gases Experiment (SAGE III), the RapidSCAT ocean winds measurement instrument, the Orbital Carbon Observatory (OCO-3), the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) experiment, the Calorimetric Electron Telescope, and others.  Ensuring the stability and availability of the ISS through 2024 will instill confidence in the science community that the ISS platform will be available for important, long-term research endeavors.

Finally, extending the ISS will help cement continuing U.S. leadership in human spaceflight going forward.  The ISS is the most complex and challenging engineering endeavor in history. The key to its success has been the combination of NASA ingenuity and international cooperation.  With a partnership that includes 15 nations and with 68 nations currently using the ISS in one way or another, this unique orbiting laboratory is a clear demonstration of the benefits to humankind that can be achieved through peaceful global cooperation.  It is important to keep this partnership intact, with America as its leader. Leadership in space brings with it economic growth, technological prowess, and national pride, and contributes to American global leadership more broadly.

The ISS is a unique facility that offers enormous scientific and societal benefits.  The Obama Administration’s decision to extend its life until at least 2024 will allow us to maximize its potential, deliver critical benefits to our Nation and the world, and maintain American leadership in space.

John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Charles Bolden is Administrator of NASA