NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Space Flights

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July has always been a big month for America’s space program.  Next week, on July 14, New Horizons will make the closest approach ever to Pluto, and the United States will become the first nation to visit this dwarf planet in the outer reaches of our solar system. This July 4 marked the tenth anniversary of Deep Impact, mankind’s first mission to reach out and touch a comet. It was on July 20, 1969 that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their giant leap for humankind.  It was on July 30, 1971 that the lunar rover was driven on the surface of the Moon for the very first time. It was on July 4, 1997 that Pathfinder arrived on Mars.  Furthermore, it was on July 14, 1965 – 50 years ago next week – that Mariner 4 flew by and sent us the very close-up first pictures of Mars.

Today, a half century after we received those first pictures of the Red Planet, we’re able to make a significant announcement that will further our nation’s Journey to Mars.

I am pleased to announce that four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before.  These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.  (Click on each astronaut’s name to learn more about him or her!):

For as long as I’ve been Administrator, President Obama has made it very clear that returning the launches of American astronauts to American soil is a top priority – and he has persistently supported this initiative in his budget requests to Congress.  Had we received everything he asked for, we’d be preparing to send these astronauts to space on commercial carriers as soon as this year.  As it stands, we’re currently working toward launching in 2017, and today’s announcement allows our astronauts to begin training for these flights starting now.

We are on a Journey to Mars, and in order to meet our goals for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s we need to be able to focus both on deep space and the groundbreaking work being done on the International Space Station (ISS).

Our commercial crew initiative makes these parallel endeavors possible.  By working with American companies to get our astronauts to the ISS, NASA is able to focus on game-changing technologies, the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that are geared toward getting astronauts to deep space.

Furthermore, there are real economic benefits to bolstering America’s emerging commercial space market.  We have over 350 American companies working across 35 states on our commercial crew initiative.  Every dollar we invest in commercial crew is a dollar we invest in ourselves, rather than in the Russian economy.

Our plans to return launches to American soil also make fiscal sense. It currently costs $76 million per astronaut to fly on a Russian spacecraft.  On an American-owned spacecraft, the average cost will be $58 million per astronaut.  What’s more, each mission will carry four crewmembers instead of three, along with 100 kg of materials to support the important science and research we conduct on the ISS.

For these reasons, our commercial crew program is a worthy successor to the incredible 30-year run of the Space Shuttle Program.  The decision that President Bush made in 2004 to retire the Space Shuttle was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision.  As you’ll recall, it was the recommendation of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and endorsed by many people in the space community – including yours truly.

I cannot think of a better way to continue our celebration of independence this July than to mark this milestone as we look to reassert our space travel independence and end our sole reliance on Russia to get American astronauts to the International Space Station.

I also want to take this opportunity to offer a special word of congratulations to astronaut candidates from the Class of 2013, who are transitioning into flight-ready status.  These eight outstanding Americans – four of them women, four of them men — were selected from a pool of more than 6,300 applicants – our second largest pool of applicants, ever.

The enthusiasm for NASA’s astronaut program reminds us that journeying to space continues to be the dream of Americans everywhere.  So my message to members of our incredible NASA Family, is that you must never lose sight of the fact that by your work every day, you inspire today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders, scientists, engineers and astronauts.

You can click on each astronaut’s name to learn more about our newest astronauts:

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.

NASA Celebrates Earth Day

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I invite everyone to celebrate Earth Day today. Observing our home is at the core of NASA’s mission, and it continues be a dynamic and growing area of our activity.

A 'Blue Marble' image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA's most recently launched Earth-observing satellite - Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken on January 4, 2012. The NPP satellite was renamed 'Suomi NPP' on January 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin.  Suomi NPP is NASA's next Earth-observing research satellite. It is the first of a new generation of satellites that will observe many facets of our changing Earth.  Suomi NPP is carrying five instruments on board. The biggest and most important instrument is The Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite or VIIRS.  Image Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

A ‘Blue Marble’ image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA’s most recently launched Earth-observing satellite – Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface taken on January 4, 2012. The NPP satellite was renamed ‘Suomi NPP’ on January 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin.
Suomi NPP is NASA’s next Earth-observing research satellite. It is the first of a new generation of satellites that will observe many facets of our changing Earth.
Suomi NPP is carrying five instruments on board. The biggest and most important instrument is The Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite or VIIRS.
Image Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

Living in space is going to be part of our future, but what we know about Earth and how we live on this planet is absolutely critical. That’s one reason I was so pleased that this past year NASA launched five Earth new observation missions, including sending instruments to the International Space Station that are adding to its capabilities as a platform for Earth science in addition to what it helps us learn about human health in space.

We want to know how our planet works, how we affect it, and how it might change in the future. Right now, including those recent launches, NASA has 20 spacecraft orbiting Earth and gathering amazing science data. They can see carbon dioxide in the air, water reserves below ground, the heat our planet is absorbing, and the inside of hurricanes — Amazing stuff!

This is the first time in human history that we can really see and hope to understand how a planet lives and breathes. It’s a tall order, but NASA is on it. With this knowledge we are able to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing everyone on Earth today: Climate Change. Because we have these incredible tools in space, we can now see the changes across the whole planet. We can see the facts.

We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re making progress. We are steadily increasing the known, and decreasing the unknown about how Earth is changing. Knowledge is a powerful tool, and with it we can all be better stewards of our home planet.

This Earth Day all of you have the opportunity to become Earth observers. We want everyone to stop for a moment this April 22 and share their photos and videos of favorite places they’ve been using the hashtag #NoPlaceLikeHome.

We’ll be posting NASA’s best shots from space (including some of my favorites from my “old days” in shuttle) to send the message that there really is no place like our home planet. We all love Earth, so let’s be more observant of it. Let’s learn more about it and NASA will keep circling the globe to help us all protect it and work toward a brighter future.

One-Year Mission to Station Advances NASA’s Journey to Mars

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Today we launch an American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut to live and work in space for an entire year. It’s the first time an American astronaut will have been in space for that length of time. It’s an important stepping-stone on our journey to Mars and will give us detailed medical data recorded throughout the one-year expedition. President Obama recognized this significant American space exploration milestone in his State of the Union address this year, noting: “[We’re] pushing out into the solar system not just to visit, but to stay…as part of a reenergized space program.”

Expedition 43 Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), top, NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, center, and Russian Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos wave farewell as they board the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft ahead of their launch to the International Space Station, Friday, March 27, 2015 in Baikonor, Kazakhstan. As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016.  Photo Credit (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Expedition 43 Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), top, NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly, center, and Russian Cosmonaut Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos wave farewell as they board the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft ahead of their launch to the International Space Station, Friday, March 27, 2015 in Baikonor, Kazakhstan. As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016. Photo Credit (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

This mission is part of the critical roadmap we’ve been undertaking with bipartisan support since the President challenged us five years ago to plan for a human mission to an asteroid and later to Mars.

When American astronaut Scott Kelly is in space, he’ll not only carry out the research and technology demonstrations that our astronauts have been helping us develop during the past 14 years of continuous human habitation aboard the International Space Station (ISS), he’ll also participate in a unique experiment.

Scott has an identical twin brother, Mark – also an astronaut – who will be here on Earth. We’ll compare the brothers’ vital signs and learn how space affects the human body on orbit. Throughout Scott’s mission we’ll gain new, detailed insights on ways long-duration spaceflight can affect things like bone density, muscle mass, strength, vision and other aspects of human physiology. We’ll also look at mental changes and challenges astronauts may face when they embark on longer-duration missions.

We will also get an opportunity to see how microgravity affects the human genome. This information might affect every one of us on Earth as we get a unique insight into genomic changes.

Unfortunately, Scott won’t launch on this important mission from the United States on an American spacecraft. However, that’s not for a lack of trying on the part of the Obama Administration.

Five years ago, the President laid out a plan to ensure we had an American system to transport our astronauts to the International Space Station once the Bush Administration’s plan to retire the Space Shuttle went into effect. That plan looked to the ingenuity of U.S. industry to develop private space transportation systems to get crews to the ISS. Regrettably, Congress did not fully fund this plan and delayed its implementation until 2017. It is my hope that the plan is fully funded this year, as full funding this year is critical to ending our sole dependence on the Russians as soon as possible.

Kelly’s launch is one key aspect of NASA’s efforts to meet the President’s goal of a human mission to Mars, but much work is underway throughout the agency to meet this vision. Technology drives exploration and NASA has integrated its work to focus on developing the technologies to reach deeper into space. Our Space Launch System rocket, which will be the most powerful ever built, has moved from being a concept into development. Just this month we’ve tested the booster and the rocket engines for this powerful vehicle. The Orion spacecraft, in which astronauts will travel to farther destinations in deep space, performed flawlessly on its first flight test in December. We have completed the first round of detailed reviews and are now looking even closer at the heat shield through destructive evaluation. This data review will help us improve Orion’s safety and performance as we prepare for a crewed flight.

We’re also working on the advanced technologies for propulsion, landing and radiation shielding, among many others, that humans will need to travel farther than we ever have before. While that work is rapidly advancing, our commercial partners’ innovation will make it possible for the next generation of astronauts to travel once again to space on American systems. We couldn’t be more proud of our astronaut corps, our innovative engineers and scientists and the industrial gumption of our partners. Together, they’re helping to create a whole new segment of the economy that is driving the inspiration and competitiveness of the future.

Scott Kelly’s launch is more than simply one person’s journey to the International Space Station. At the end of his mission, he will become the record holder for longest stay in space by an American. But as he works off the Earth, for the Earth, he stands on the shoulders of the great NASA achievements that made the Space Station possible. He is helping us reach higher and take those next great leaps in exploration. His historic mission is one more sign that our nation’s space program is thriving and continues to lead the world.

American-Made Technology and Innovative Commercial Partnerships Advance Our Journey into the Solar System

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Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator
John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology

“We have to do everything we can to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit, wherever we find it. We should be helping American companies compete and sell their products all over the world. We should be making it easier and faster to turn new ideas into new jobs and new businesses and we should knock down any barriers that stand in the way. Because if we’re going to create jobs now and in the future, we’re going to have to out-build and out-educate and out-innovate every other country on Earth.”
-President Barack Obama, September 16, 2011

This artist's concept depicts the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), constructed by Bigelow Aerospace, attached to the International Space Station. The BEAM will be launched to the space station later this year. Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

This artist’s concept depicts the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), constructed by Bigelow Aerospace, attached to the International Space Station. The BEAM will be launched to the space station later this year.
Image Credit: Bigelow Aerospace

Over the past six years, the Obama Administration has placed a high priority on developing innovative new technologies that advance our nation’s journey into the solar system on a path to Mars, facilitate the creation of a thriving space economy, and keep the United States of America the undisputed world leader in exploration.

This week, Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas is marking completion of all major milestones for a new, American-made, space-technology demonstration module to be added to the International Space Station (ISS), another concrete example of how we are out-innovating every other nation on Earth while knocking down the barriers as we push out into the solar system, not just to visit, but to stay.

The “Bigelow Expandable Activity Module,” or the BEAM, is an expandable habitat that will be used to investigate technology and understand the potential benefits of such habitats for human missions to deep space. The ISS is an excellent platform to test and demonstrate exploration systems such as the BEAM. and NASA expects that the BEAM project will gather critical data related to structural, thermal, and acoustic performance, as well as radiation and micro-meteoroid protection. All of these data are essential to understanding the technology for future astronaut habitats for use in long-duration space travel.

The International Space Station serves as the world’s leading laboratory where researchers conduct cutting-edge research and technology development to enable human and robotic exploration of destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and Mars. This innovative expandable habitat concept is an example of how American businesses and NASA can help to open new markets in low-Earth orbit and pioneer the space frontier.

The BEAM is scheduled to launch to the ISS later this year, along with supplies for astronauts, aboard an American commercial rocket provided by SpaceX. The SpaceX cargo resupply mission marks another in the ongoing successful revival of cargo launches from American soil.

The U.S. human spaceflight program continues to mark many advances. This year NASA awarded fixed-price contracts to two American companies — SpaceX and Boeing — to safely and cost effectively transport our astronauts to the Space Station from the United States. This will end our sole reliance on Russia for this function.

Our newest rocket, the Space Launch System, or SLS, will be the most powerful rocket ever developed. It has already moved from conceptual design to development. This week we also conducted a critical qualification test for the SLS boosters that will help power the rocket to orbit. The Orion spacecraft, in which astronauts will travel again to deep space, performed nearly flawlessly on its first trip to space this past December. NASA is now examining the full set of data that will inform improvements to the spacecraft before it carries humans beyond Earth orbit. The attitude control motor for the Orion ascent abort system recently underwent a successful test firing in Maryland.

Technology drives science and exploration. Thanks to American-made advanced technologies being developed by both NASA and our commercial partners, we are moving more rapidly on our journey of sending humans to Mars than at any point in NASA’s history. These new technologies come from NASA, traditional arrangements with longstanding aerospace firms, innovative arrangements with newly emerging companies, and every combination in between. These concrete steps for pioneering space reinforce a proven formula for success. American companies working with NASA are creating the tools needed to keep us on our path of discovery.

Today’s NASA understands that the agency can generate more innovation and attract more investment in space by partnering with America’s commercial space industry and its entrepreneurs. Our plans for exploration in the 21st century intentionally rely on American commercial partners in every aspect of what we do, whether it is rockets to get to space or new technologies such as the BEAM expandable habitat for living in space.

The United States continues to lead the world in space exploration. We are successful because we are a nation of innovative scientists, engineers, technologists, educators, and dreamers. We are a nation of unlimited potential, where individuals and businesses, small and large, can contribute to our critical work in space. Thanks to that, America’s space program is not just alive, it is thriving.

Success in Commercial Space Continues

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On Saturday, we kicked off the New Year in a spectacular way. SpaceX launched its latest cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the first American commercial flight to the ISS in 2015. This morning, the Dragon capsule arrived at the orbiting laboratory with more than two tons of supplies and science investigations for the crew in orbit. Our investment in commercial space is bringing tangible benefits to the American people and enables NASA to focus on future missions to deep space – to asteroids and Mars.

The Dragon capsule from the fifth SpaceX commercial resupply mission flies in space. Credit: NASA/Kennedy Space Center

The Dragon capsule from the fifth SpaceX commercial resupply mission flies in space. Credit: NASA/Kennedy Space Center

Thanks to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences – our two commercial cargo partners – we’ve returned Space Station resupply launches to U.S. soil. We’re now poised to do the same with the transport of our astronauts to the space station by SpaceX and The Boeing Company in the coming years – targeting 2017 as the inaugural year for commercial crew missions.

Today’s arrival of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft not only resupplies the Station, but also delivers important science experiments and increases the Station’s unique capabilities as a platform for Earth science with the delivery of the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, or CATS, instrument.

This launch also illustrates how SpaceX recognizes that technology drives exploration. The company has made great strides in returning first stage elements to a barge positioned down range. Being able to return a launch vehicle in a controlled manner back to Earth right now is another example of how technology can inform launch capabilities.

On Saturday, SpaceX succeeded in returning the Falcon 9’s first stage to an ocean platform, even though some systems didn’t work. As the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, tweeted Saturday morning, “Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho [sic].”

NASA’s use of commercial companies to send and retrieve our cargo from space, to manage the payloads on the space station and to eventually transport our astronauts has fueled jobs and entire industries. As President Obama has said, “For pennies on the dollar, the space program has improved our lives, advanced our society, strengthened our economy, and inspired generations of Americans.”

As we set our sights on 2017, we’re looking forward to working with Boeing and SpaceX on the renewed capability to launch American astronauts from U.S. soil, ending our nation’s sole reliance on Russia for such transportation.

I congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams who made Saturday’s success possible. We look forward to extending our efforts in commercial space to include commercial crew transport to the Space Station by 2017 and to more significant milestones this year on our journey to Mars.

NASA Is With You When You Fly

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With the holidays fast approaching, our nation’s airlines and air traffic control system are gearing up for the busiest time of the year for air travel. The industry association, Airlines for America, predicts 24.6 million passengers will take off to visit friends and family during the upcoming Thanksgiving Day weekend, up 1.5 percent from 2013. Sunday, Nov. 30, will be the busiest day of the year at U.S. airports.

Thanks to advancements in aeronautics developed by NASA, today’s aviation industry is better equipped than ever to safely and efficiently transport all those passengers to their destinations. In fact, every U.S. aircraft flying today has NASA-developed technology incorporated into it in one way or another.

Streamlined aircraft bodies, quieter jet engines, techniques for preventing icing, drag-reducing winglets, lightweight composite structures, and so much more are an everyday part of flying thanks to NASA research that traces its origins back to the earliest days of aviation.

The same is true at Federal Aviation Administration facilities where movement of passengers and cargo through the National Airspace System is closely monitored and managed. Today’s air traffic controllers rely on NASA-developed procedures and computer software tools designed to reduce congestion and increase efficiency on the ground and in the sky.

A great example of that is something we’re working on right now with American Airlines and the FAA called Dynamic Weather Routes, or DWR. It’s a computer software tool that helps airlines find better routes to fly around bad weather while their airplane is already in the sky and on its way. Tests so far already show promise the tool can help save money in fuel costs and reduce delays for passengers.

All of us at NASA can be proud of our ongoing role in enabling aeronautical innovation and ingenuity, a research heritage that goes back 100 years to the formation in 1915 of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). March 3, 2015, marks the centenary of this occasion.

The NACA was created by Congress over concerns the U.S. was losing its edge in aviation technology to Europe, where World War I was raging. NACA’s mission, in part, was to “supervise and direct the scientific study of the problems of flight with a view to their practical solution.”

Subsequent research by the NACA’s engineers at its world-class laboratories and wind tunnels in Virginia, California and Ohio led to fundamental advances in aeronautics that enabled victory in World War II, propelled supersonic flight, supported national security during the Cold War, and laid the foundation for the space age with NASA’s creation in 1958.

During the next year – as we celebrate the NACA centennial and our heritage of excellence in aviation research, our aeronautical innovators are continuing to identify ever more complex problems in aviation, while also designing and testing practical solutions using ever more sophisticated tools.

Our focus continues to be designing new aircraft and engines that burn less fuel, operate more quietly and generate fewer emissions. At the same time, working with our industry and government partners, NASA will also continue to improve and modernize the nation’s air traffic control system so it can safely handle the colossal influx of additional air traffic expected in the future.

We know how important aviation is to all of us. Our economy depends on it. Passenger travel and cargo shipments generate more than $1.5 trillion in activity while supporting more than 11.5 million jobs. And it’s true that aviation touches all of us every day, whether flying to an important business meeting, visiting loved ones, or even taking overnight delivery of a brand new smart phone.

It is important to remember: at every step along the way; inside cockpits, cabins and jet engines; atop traffic control towers; and from departure gate to arrival terminal at airports everywhere, the DNA of the entire aviation industry is infused with technology that has its roots in NASA research.

NASA is with you when you fly.

NASA is Working off Earth, for Earth

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At NASA, we have a unique perspective on Earth.  Every day, we observe its grandeur from our International Space Station orbiting 250 miles above the planet and capture a wealth of scientific data about how our planet is changing from our fleet of Earth observing satellites.  This year, with the launch of five Earth-observing missions — more Earth-focused launches in a single 12-month period than we’ve had in more than a decade — NASA will be able to deliver even more crucial data to scientists trying to understand our changing planet.

Back on Earth, we can’t escape the impact of climate change on our facilities and operations.  Last week, we released our annual Sustainability Report and our Climate Change Adaption Plans, which detail the steps NASA is taking to reduce carbon emissions, save energy and cut costs for the American taxpayer; as well as a review of the key challenges we face as a result of climate change.

The reports confirm that NASA’s critical launch pads and other facilities are vulnerable to beach erosion; currently, 66 percent of our assets are within 16 feet of sea level located along America’s coasts. This threat will only increase as sea levels rise and storm intensity increases.

Electrical black-outs and brown-outs associated with heat waves threaten energy utilities that provide power NASA uses to receive and process data from space.

Rocket engine testing at Stennis Space Center depends on surrounding forests to buffer the noise and vibrations from testing, which requires a constant evaluation of our climate resilience.

That’s why we believe it is so important to steward our agency’s use of natural resources and to plan for future mitigation of the impacts of a changing climate.  Our 2014 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan examines eleven goals including fleet management, greenhouse gas reduction, and climate change resilience and pollution prevention.  It shows that in 2013, NASA made significant progress on sustainability measures.  For example, we surpassed our petroleum reduction and alternative fuel usage goals, reducing use of petroleum by nearly 37 percent last year, while increasing use of alternative fuels 297 percent over 2005 benchmarks.

NASA is also focusing on the security of our energy and water supplies. Since 2010, we’ve reduced the amount of water we’ve used for industrial, landscaping and agricultural purposes by 70 percent.  NASA developed an Energy Security Plan (ESP) template to provide Centers with a guideline to generate their energy/water security plans based on their local conditions.

Stewards at NASA Centers are evaluating risks, proposing adaptation strategies, and integrating strategies into existing management plans.

NASA’s work in this area has captured national attention.  Last week, NASA’s Director of Center Operations for the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Joel B. Walker, received a 2014 GreenGov Presidential Award, recognizing his commitment to leading by example on sustainability issues. Joel developed and implemented a multifaceted sustainability management approach that has focused on areas of energy and water reduction, green purchasing, reducing the generation of hazardous waste and increased diversion of waste through recycling initiatives.  Under his direction, Johnson Space Center has constructed seven certified green buildings, which use 100 percent green power and has reduced potable water use by 15 percent annually and composted over 85,000 pounds of food waste.  Clearly Mr. Walker’s leadership has set the standard for sustainability

Through our management of climate risks and incorporation of sustainability principles into operations and planning, NASA is a resilient enterprise in service to the nation.  We will continue to provide stellar research that improves our knowledge of earth science, including data and analyses to better understand climate systems.

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