Monthly Archives: May 2015

Investing in Our Journey to Mars

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Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations will take up NASA’s budget for the next fiscal year.  The President’s priorities for NASA – including our goal and timeline for sending American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s – traditionally have enjoyed strong bipartisan support, which is a testament to the hard work and progress of NASA’s dedicated employees and contractors.

Unfortunately, this work is in jeopardy of being halted, delayed or possibly undone by the Budget Bill as currently written.  This could cost our country jobs and opportunity as well as progress on some of the defining issues of our time, including returning human spaceflight launches to America, our Journey to Mars, and our ability to understand and respond to things like earthquakes, storm events, and climate change.

Technology drives all of our exploration and it also creates jobs, strengthening the American economy and producing “spill-over effects” (like those we’re seeing in Nepal, as NASA technologies are being used to save lives and strategically deploy resources).   The bill being considered would take funding from this type of critical technology development.

For example, it would upend the investments we need to execute contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to return the launches of American astronauts to American soil and to do it by 2017.  Instead, it would force us to continue our sole reliance on Russia.  In other words, it would guarantee we will continue to send millions of dollars a year to Moscow instead of investing that money in United States, creating jobs and once again launching Americans from U.S. soil.

This at a time when a new consensus is emerging around NASA’s goal, timetable, and plan for sending American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.  Make no mistake: This plan is clear. This plan is affordable, and this plan is sustainable.

Meanwhile, NASA has an amazing fleet of Earth observation satellites, many in partnership with other nations, and they help us predict and respond to disaster as well as understand climate change and many other aspects of our living planet’s processes. Yet, the House proposal would seriously reduce our Earth science program and threaten to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate, and our ability to prepare for and respond to earthquakes, droughts, and storm events.

With the incredible progress we’ve been making – from Earth Science to Orion to the Space Launch System to the work being done on the International Space Station – now is not the time to hit the rewind button or to press pause.  It’s time to fast forward into greater prosperity and job creation as America expands humanity’s reach into space, while strengthening our leadership here on Earth.

To read the entire Office of Management and Budget letter on the FY 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, visit:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/letters/cjs-full-committee-appropriations-letter-hal-rogers.pdf

One Step Closer to Launching American Astronauts from American Soil

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NASA is committed to returning American space launches to U.S. soil, and an important step toward achieving that goal took place today as our commercial partner, SpaceX, undertook a flight test to see how its Crew Dragon capsule performed on a simulated escape from an emergency at launch.

May 6, 2015 -- Eight SuperDraco engines boost a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft away from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in an emergency pad abort simulation. Each of the eight SuperDraco engine generates 15,000 pounds of thrust and burns about six seconds. The test began at 9 a.m. After the engines shut down, the Dragon spacecraft's trunk, with passive fins for stability, will separate when it reaches peak altitude. Photo credit: NASA

May 6, 2015 — Eight SuperDraco engines boost a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft away from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in an emergency pad abort simulation. Each of the eight SuperDraco engine generates 15,000 pounds of thrust and burns about six seconds. The test began at 9 a.m. After the engines shut down, the Dragon spacecraft’s trunk, with passive fins for stability, will separate when it reaches peak altitude.
Photo credit: NASA

SpaceX and The Boeing Company both are working on commercial space transportation systems to launch American astronauts from the United States by 2017 and end our sole reliance on the Russians to reach space. As we move toward certification of these systems, safety remains our number one priority. The pad abort test today gives us crucial insight into how SpaceX’s system would perform if a booster failed at liftoff or in any other scenario that would threaten astronauts inside the spacecraft.

During the test, the spacecraft and its trunk, which together are about 20 feet tall, flew on the power of eight SuperDraco engines. The SuperDracos, each producing 15,000 pounds of thrust, lifted the spacecraft above the launch pad before it parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean. The whole test took about two minutes. Recovery teams will retrieve the Crew Dragon from the ocean for further study.

The test was one of the milestones NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX agreed to as part of the developmental effort for a privately owned and operated crew transportation system that can safely and economically carry crews to and from low-Earth orbit. The spacecraft was equipped to gather lots of information about the test and the engines, with 270 sensors and a life-sized dummy as part of the cargo.

Commercial crew is a critical component of our journey to Mars. It will enable regular service to low-Earth orbit with astronauts by 2017 while NASA develops technologies like solar electric propulsion and radiation shielding that will take us farther into the solar system. The innovation of our partners has opened a whole new segment of the economy, created good jobs, and yielded new technologies for traveling to orbit. Our investment in commercial space is paying off with achievements like this pad abort test, as well as regular cargo deliveries to the International Space Station. We must continue those investments if we are to meet our goal of launching from America again in 2017.

We’re proud of the continued progress our commercial partners are making and look forward to a robust commercial crew program as part of an integrated strategy for fully utilizing the International Space Station as a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system and sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. Today’s test gets us closer to this challenging but achievable goal.

 

Investing in Earth Science

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One of the reasons that President Obama has made it a priority to invest in NASA’s Earth Science initiatives is so that once disaster strikes, we have the tools in place to respond quickly and effectively – and to save lives. While some have proposed deep cuts to critically important investments like these, we hope we’ll never have to know the true cost of neglecting to invest in the Earth Sciences when we need them most.

Image shows a decrease in emitted light over Nepal in areas affected by the earthquake on April 25 as detected by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, VIIRS, “Day-Night Band” sensor aboard the NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership satellite, derived from a comparison of pre-earthquake (22 April 2015) and post-earthquake (26 April 2015) imagery.  Input satellite data were obtained in collaboration with the NASA Suomi NPP Science Investigator-Led Processing System activities at the University of Wisconsin. Note: The outline is of the domain of 11 districts in the immediate region of the earthquake with each of the districts names bolded.  Blue lines are the major roadways, and thin lines are the district boundaries.  The crosshatch yellow line delineates where clouds are present in both the thermal and shortwave infrared imagery. Images Produced By: The Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Image shows a decrease in emitted light over Nepal in areas affected by the earthquake on April 25 as detected by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, VIIRS, “Day-Night Band” sensor aboard the NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership satellite, derived from a comparison of pre-earthquake (22 April 2015) and post-earthquake (26 April 2015) imagery. Input satellite data were obtained in collaboration with the NASA Suomi NPP Science Investigator-Led Processing System activities at the University of Wisconsin.
Note: The outline is of the domain of 11 districts in the immediate region of the earthquake with each of the districts names bolded. Blue lines are the major roadways, and thin lines are the district boundaries. The crosshatch yellow line delineates where clouds are present in both the thermal and shortwave infrared imagery.
Images Produced By: The Short-term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The immediate value of these investments is on display right now, where the men and women of NASA – along with colleagues throughout the federal government, NGOs and the private sector – are working hard to save lives and aid in the recovery efforts in Nepal, which recently suffered an unthinkable tragedy.

I think I speak on behalf of all our NASA colleagues when I say that our hearts break for the Nepalese people. The news is devastating: more than 5,000 of our global neighbors have lost their lives; more than 10,000 are injured.

The President has pledged that the American people will do everything we can to help our brothers and sisters in Nepal. At NASA, along with our thoughts and prayers, we’re sending technical assistance that’s powered by Earth Science. You can help as well. Our colleagues at USAID have information available here on how to pitch in.

I want to share with you some of the ways in which NASA is working on behalf of the recovery effort:

• We are helping get satellite data into the hands of government officials in Nepal where Internet bandwidth is limited.

• Through a joint project with USAID we call the SERVIR project, we are supporting disaster response mapping efforts, including image processing, compression and distribution.

• We are pulling optical and radar satellite data and compiling them into products like “vulnerability maps” (used to determine risks that may be present) and “damage proxy maps” (used to determine the type and extent of existing damage) that can be used to better direct response efforts.

• Along with our partners, we’re providing assessments of damage to infrastructure; tracking remote areas that may be a challenge for relief workers to reach, as well as areas that could be at risk for landslides, river damming, floods and avalanches.

In addition, organizations both public and private are making use of NASA technologies – including the U.S. Geological Survey, United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, World Bank, American Red Cross and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

For more information on this tragedy and how you can help, please click here to learn more.