Kibo: Our Shared Destiny Will Be Written by Us, Not for Us

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This week, I embarked on a visit to Japan for discussions with a variety of senior Japanese government officials about our mutual interest in space exploration.  I will also visit NASA’s outstanding partners at JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

With more than 30 active agreements in place, NASA and JAXA have one of the strongest, most comprehensive and longest lasting space bilateral relationships of any two nations in the world. One of the greatest illustrations of this partnership is the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour (about 28,000 kph) with six astronauts on board as I write this!

NASA’s Journey to Mars is taking shape aboard the orbiting laboratory, where astronauts from different countries are working together to advance research and technology that will allow future astronauts to travel deeper into space, at the very same time we create jobs and improve our quality of life here on Earth.

Japan and the United States are working together aboard the Space Station with many other international partners – and we will be for the foreseeable future. Today, Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi and American astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins are living and working together with their Russian crewmates at the cutting edge of innovation, science and discovery.  Their research ‘Off the Earth, For the Earth’ promises to deepen understanding and expand human progress around such areas as medicine, biology, technology, Earth science, material production and communications – and that’s just the short list!

Because leaders in both the U.S. and Japan have chosen to extend our Space Station participation through at least 2024, the promise and potential progress that comes out of this research will continue for years to come.  In the more immediate future, the research benefitting all of humanity will be bolstered by cargo delivered to station aboard Japan’s upcoming HTV-6 mission (which, as was announced recently, is set to launch in October of this year).

As we consider the bright future of our partnership, I’m very much looking forward to joining our friends at JAXA this week for a ceremony to officially open a control room for Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module on ISS.

Kibo is, appropriately, a Japanese word meaning “hope,” and I believe that “hope” is an excellent description of the research that’s being conducted aboard the International Space Station and the cooperation that goes into it.

President Obama once said that “hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”

The International Space Station is the embodiment of this sort of hope and effort.  Consider this: more than 220 human beings from 18 countries have visited the International Space Station; tens of thousands of people have been involved in its construction and operation; and people from dozens of countries have had their research and experiments flown aboard it.

As we look forward to an exciting future exploring space, I am also enthusiastic about advances the U.S. is making in airspace travel a little closer to Earth.  We are in the midst of an incredible moment in the history of aeronautics. With President Obama proposing an historic investment in green aviation, we have an opportunity to make air travel cleaner, greener, safer and quieter – even as our skies grow more crowded and aircraft fly faster.

One of the more important areas of NASA aeronautics research is air traffic management.  Our country’s skies will have to absorb an estimated four billion more passengers over the next several decades and it’s essential that we do this without compromising the safety of our skies.

We in the United States are not the only country with an interest in building a more efficient air traffic management system.  International commerce depends on air transportation and it is imperative that we work together with partner countries around the world to maximize human resources and investment for the benefit of all humanity.

With this in mind, after my visit to Japan I plan to travel to China to discuss areas of mutual interest in aviation research between NASA and the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment (CAE).  This will be part of ongoing conversations that began in November of 2014 and have continued through a NASA-CAE workshop in Beijing that was held in August 2015.

Taken together, our partnerships around the world continue to instill optimism – and inspire hope – about the future of space exploration, aeronautics and our ability to write our own destiny – together.

Bringing Humans to Mars and Humanity Together

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NASA’s Journey to Mars is about more than sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s; it’s about bringing people together here on Earth.  It’s about strengthening the American economy and with it the economic security of families throughout our country.  It’s also about strengthening our friendships across sectors and also across national borders.  This is why I’m fond of reminding virtually every audience to whom I speak that sending humans to Mars requires all hands on deck – government, industry, academic and international partners and citizen scientists – we need everybody.

Today, I’m embarking on a journey of my own — to meet with our global friends in international space agencies, governments, private companies, universities and other forums; folks who are eager to be part of NASA’s Journey to Mars.  I plan to carry with me a message of partnership as I remind them of how much the American people value their friendship, especially when it comes to space – which in many ways is the great global connector.

It should not be lost on any of us that for the last decade and a half, human beings from multiple countries have been living and working together on the International Space Station (ISS) in common pursuit of human progress.  It certainly is not lost on me, that a girl or boy age 15 or younger has lived every single second of every day of her or his life while human beings have been living and working together in space.  Our grandchildren’s children may very well live every day of their own lives while human beings are living and working together on Mars.

For this reason, I’m a firm believer in the soft power that our country is able to demonstrate when we engage in space diplomacy.  From our perspective at NASA, one of the most gratifying developments over the past few years has been the increasing number of nations who have joined the global exploration endeavor. Nations large and small, both with and without formal space agencies, have all come to the conclusion that everyone who has a passion for space can find a role and a place where their expertise is critical.  In short, every single nation can play a part in our journey to Mars, in our scientific journey of discovery and in the next phase of humanity’s development as a spacefaring people.

Over the course of this trip, I will have the opportunity to discuss NASA’s Journey to Mars with the Israeli Minister of Science, Technology and Space, the Israel Space Agency (ISA), and Israeli innovators, students and entrepreneurs.  I’ll also be meeting with students in both Israel and Jordan who participate in the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) science and education initiative, of which NASA is a proud partner.  I’ll also be traveling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to meet with colleagues at the UAE Space Agency.  I’ll wrap up this trip with a meeting with NASA partners in the European Space Agency (ESA) at the ESA Council in Paris.

We recognize that NASA provides inspiration to dreamers and doers of all professions everywhere around the world, so we are looking forward to partnering with the U.S. Embassy in Amman and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II to host a public dialog about NASA’s Journey to Mars while I am in Jordan.

Everywhere I travel, I meet people who are looking to the United States for leadership when it comes to space exploration. Time and again I hear enthusiasm about our Journey to Mars and an appetite for partnership in this remarkable pursuit of progress and possibility.

Together, we can bring humanity to the face of Mars and reach new heights for the benefit of all humankind … and we will.

NASA, NOAA Analyses Reveal Record-Shattering Global Warm Temperatures in 2015

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By NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and
NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our generation and it affects every person on Earth. Tracking the changes in the global climate is the basis for understanding its magnitude and extent.

Today’s announcement that NASA and NOAA scientists have determined that 2015 was the hottest year in recorded history underscores how critical Earth observation is. The NOAA-NASA collaboration has served the country very well, from the origin of space-based remote sensing for weather forecasting to the Earth system monitoring and science that are so crucial to tackling the issues of our times. This announcement is a key data point that should make policy makers stand up and take notice — now is the time to act on climate.

The modern temperature record dates back to1880, and 2015 was the warmest year by a long shot.

There has been a lot of talk about the strengthening El Niño in the Pacific Ocean and how that might be supercharging temperatures. El Niño did likely play an important role – but more significantly, 2015’s record temperatures are the result of the gradual, yet accelerating, build-up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists have been warning about it for decades and now we are experiencing it.  This is the second year in a row of record temperatures and what is so interesting is that the warmest temperatures often occur the year after an El Nino, like in 1998 compared to 1997.

Fifteen of the 16 warmest years on record have now occurred since 2001. Temperatures will bounce around from year to year, but the direction of the long-term trend is as clear as a rocket headed for space: it is going up.

This record-breaking moment is a good time to take stock of what we know of our changing planet and why it is important for NASA, NOAA and other federal agencies to continue studying Earth’s climate and how it is changing:

  • Sea levels are rising – nearly three inches in the past two decades alone. The successful launch earlier this week of the NOAA-led Jason-3 mission will continue our 23-year record of measuring sea level change from space with remarkable precision. In the coming years and decades, our work to understand how quickly seas are rising will be vital to coastal cities in the U.S., millions of people around the world who live in low-lying areas, and to NASA’s own facilities at Kennedy Space Center, where we will one day launch astronauts to Mars, and other affected facilities such as the Stennis Space Center, Wallops Flight Facility and Michoud Assembly Facility.
  • The Arctic ice cap is shrinking. In the 1970s and 80s, NASA scientists pioneered techniques to measure the extent of sea ice at the poles. That new ability quickly gave way to the realization that the Arctic ice cover – which plays a significant role in the planet’s climate and even the weather we experience in the U.S. – is retreating and growing thinner.
  • NOAA’s global drifting buoy program and other NOAA and international ocean temperature and land surface temperature measurements have provided the means to measure the temperature at the Earth’s surface, so critical to our survival.
  • Ice sheets and glaciers worldwide are shedding ice. Greenland is losing about 300 billion tons of ice per year, according to measurements from NASA’s GRACE mission. Observations from the agency’s Operation IceBridge have helped confirm rapidly accelerating changes in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the dramatic retreat of glaciers in Alaska. Given the pace of these changes and their significance for the climate and sea level rise, we need close and continuous monitoring. In 2017, NASA will launch two missions – GRACE-FO and ICESat-2 – that represent a major refresh of our capabilities to observe how ice sheets and glaciers are changing.

Rising temperature is not an isolated effect of rising greenhouse gas levels, and scientists are still studying the full implications of a warmer world. How might patterns of drought and precipitation change?  Will ecosystems and species be able to adapt to human-induced climate change? What might these changes mean for wildfires, agriculture and the economy?

Climate change isn’t a problem for the future. Earth’s climate is changing now.  At NASA, we use our unique vantage point from space to study the planet as a whole system.  NOAA’s scientists are on the ocean, land and in the sky collecting data that help bring clarity.  Our job is to answer these kinds of questions, to make the measurements needed to get to those answers and to provide our knowledge and our data freely so the world can address this fundamental challenge.



Building a Robust Commercial Market in Low Earth Orbit

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NASA is on a Journey to Mars and a new consensus is emerging around our plan, vision and timetable for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. Our strategy calls for working with commercial partners to get our astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station while NASA also focuses – simultaneously — on getting our astronauts to deep space.

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Few would have imagined back in 2010 when President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work “with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,” that less than six years later we’d be able to say commercial carriers have transported 35,000 of pounds of space cargo (and counting!) to the International Space Station (ISS) – or that we’d be so firmly on track to return launches of American astronauts to the ISS from American soil on American commercial carriers.

But that is exactly what is happening.

Since the first SpaceX Dragon commercial resupply mission to deliver cargo to the ISS in October 2012 and Orbital ATK’s first Cygnus mission in January 2014, American companies have delivered cargo to the Space Station that enables our astronauts to work off Earth for Earth on extensive and ongoing scientific research and technology demonstrations aboard the Space Station. This has included investigations that directly benefit life on Earth and expand commercial access to microgravity research through the U.S. National Laboratory (which is operated by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space or CASIS).

All this matters because NASA research helps us understand our home planet as well as the solar system and beyond, while technology demonstrations and human health research like astronaut Scott Kelly’s one-year mission and the Twins Study aboard the Space Station prepare us for long-duration missions into deep space.

As a result, we are closer than ever before to sending American astronauts to Mars and at the very same time, we’re “insourcing” American jobs and empowering American entrepreneurs and innovators to expand the nascent commercial market in low-Earth orbit.

Today, thanks to the bold plan laid out by the President, Americans are working at more than 1,000 companies in nearly every state in the Union on NASA commercial space initiatives.

Across the board, about 80% of NASA’s activities are carried out by our partners in industry and at America’s academic institutions. We develop more than 1,600 new technologies a year and work with business partners to transfer thousands of products, services and processes into the market for job creation and economic growth. More venture capital was invested in America’s space industry in 2015 than in all the previous 15 years combined.

In other words, at NASA we’re exploring deep space, but we’re anchored right here on Earth, where we’re creating jobs and fueling innovation, technology development and growth, recognizing that it all depends on American ingenuity and innovation.

With the recent passage of the FY2016 federal budget and our selection of Robert Behnken, Sunita Williams, Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley to be the first NASA astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, we are close to returning human launches to American soil and ending our sole reliance on the Russians to get into space.

In addition, the commercial crew spacecraft will enable us to add a seventh crew member to the normal Space Station crew complement, effectively doubling the amount of crew time available to conduct research off Earth for Earth. The additional research (and crew supplies) will be delivered during cargo resupply missions.


Despite critics who may have said this was a pipe dream just five short years ago, we continue to transform the way NASA does business and as a result, today we’re able to mark another significant milestone that will carry President Obama’s vision further into the future.

This afternoon, our ISS team in Houston will announce that NASA is making its new award for commercial space cargo delivery to the ISS.

This is a big deal, because our commercial resupply missions enable NASA and our private industry and other government agency partners to continue the extensive, ongoing scientific research aboard the Space Station.

President Obama extended the life of the International Space Station through at least 2024 (with the support of Congress) and our commercial cargo providers ensure cargo resupply missions continue, enabling us to keep using the station as our springboard to the rest of the solar system and a test bed for human health in space. Today’s selection builds on our initial resupply partnerships. It will ensure that NASA maintains the capability and flexibility to operate the ISS and conduct the vital research of a unique National Lab through resupply services launching from the United States.

As President Obama said, “in fulfilling this task, we will not only extend humanity’s reach in space — we will strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.” Our investment in commercial space is creating jobs and it’s bringing us closer to sending American astronauts to Mars. Competition, innovation and technology – it’s the American way. It’s helping us to Launch America.

NASA’s Work to Understand Climate: A Global Perspective

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NASA is uniquely positioned to study our home planet, and Earth observation has been at the core of the agency’s work since our founding. In addition to a fleet of amazing satellites that we and our international partners use to study our planet in a range of wavelengths, and across the spectrum of planetary features from oceans to atmosphere and ground cover, the International Space Station is also rapidly becoming a significant platform to study Earth.

Our work has global implications. This week, a small delegation of NASA leaders have been participating with a larger U.S. delegation at the 21st session of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties, also known as COP-21. COP-21 will bring nearly 200 nations together to reach an agreement on limiting climate change.

Global climate change, driven by rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, represents a fundamental challenge to the U.S. and the world. It is the challenge of our generation. While NASA has no formal role in the COP-21 climate policy talks, the agency is hard at work providing the nation and the world the best information possible about how Earth is changing. Regardless of what world leaders decide in Paris, our job is to build an understanding of the whole planet now and what it will look like in the future.

NASA’s comprehensive study of Earth has provided much of the underlying understanding of current trends in the planet’s climate – including definitive measurements of rising sea levels, glacier retreat, ice sheet changes and the decline in the volume of the Arctic sea ice cap. Our satellites have provided global, long-term views of plant life on land and in the ocean. And our supercomputing power is allowing us to better understand how all the parts of the Earth system work together and help us to predict how this could change. We will continue to monitor climate trends and investigate other ways in which the planet is ultimately responding to increasing greenhouse gas levels.

We have discovered more than a thousand planets outside of our solar system, but none yet match Earth’s complexity. That’s one reason we have more satellites orbiting Earth than any other planet. We made a significant expansion of the Earth-observing fleet in 2014 and 2015, launching missions that are making unprecedented measurements of rainfall and snow (Global Precipitation Measurement), carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2), and soil moisture (Soil Moisture Active Passive). Soon, with the help of NOAA, the French Space Agency CNES, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites -EUMETSAT and SpaceX, we will launch the Jason-3 mission to continue building on the vital, two-decade record of how much and where global sea level is changing.

The view from space is incredible – seeing our planet from orbit is one of the highlights of my life — but sometimes we need to get in a little closer. So in the 2015 and throughout 2016, NASA is sending scientists on expeditions to all corners of the planet – by plane, by ship and even by foot – to get an on-the-ground look to help answer some important science questions. How are warming ocean waters melting Greenland glaciers and adding to sea level rise? How are the world’s coral reefs responding to changes in the ocean? What will rapidly warming temperatures in the Arctic mean for the greenhouse gases stored in forests and permafrost? Our scientists are putting together multi-year campaigns that will complement our space-based perspective. Consider it planetary exploration right here at home.

Global meetings like COP-21 are important for discussion and policymaking, and NASA will continue the day to day work of monitoring our Earth observation satellites and making their wealth of data available to people across the globe. There’s no more important planet for us to understand.

President Obama Meets With Space Pioneers

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Monday, the stars were out at the White House — literally — as more than 100 students joined President Obama, twelve astronauts, scientists, engineers, teachers, and space enthusiasts — along with Americans participating virtually from more than 80 national parks, observatories, schools, museums, and astronomy clubs across our country — White House Astronomy Night.

President Barack Obama greets NASA Commercial Crew astronauts: Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, and NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, in the Map Room before White House Astronomy Night on the South Lawn of the White House, Oct. 19, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama greets NASA Commercial Crew astronauts: Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, and NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, in the Map Room before White House Astronomy Night on the South Lawn of the White House, Oct. 19, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Some of the brightest stars of the night weren’t celestial in nature. Rather, they are four space pioneers: astronauts Robert Behnken, Sunita Williams, Eric Boe, and Douglas Hurley.

These distinguished veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books. NASA selected these four, who privately met with the President earlier in the evening, to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew carriers.

It’s an important step on our Journey to Mars, and for President Obama’s ambitious plan to once again launch U.S. astronauts into space from U.S. soil and to create good-paying American jobs in the process – 350 American companies across 35 states are working toward this goal.

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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.

Five years ago, when the President came to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to ask NASA to work toward sending American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, he talked about being inspired as a young boy when his grandfather lifted him on his shoulders so he could cheer on astronauts arriving in Hawaii.

His hope – and, really, all our hope – is that a new generation of young Americans will be inspired by people like Bob, Suni, Eric, and Doug to reach for new heights, both in their own lives and in the life of our nation.

Today’s young people are a part of what I like to call the “space generation.” Those who are younger than 15 have lived every day of their lives in a time when American astronauts are living and working in space aboard the International Space Station.

Our goal is to give them a future where Americans are pushing further into the solar system at the very same time that our Nation strengthens our leadership here at home. President Obama’s commercial crew vision represents a giant leap into this future.

More Links:

#AskNASA Chat with NASA commercial crew astronauts. 

Photos from Astronomy Night 2015. 

Video of the President’s remarks at Astronomy Night.


Mars: A Journey We Will Take Together

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Nearly everywhere I travel, I meet people who are excited to learn more about NASA’s Journey to Mars and NASA’s plan, timetable and vision for getting there. This past week, we released a detailed outline of our plan – a clear, affordable sustainable, roadmap for sending our astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

It’s called “NASA’s Journey to Mars: Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration” and I hope you’ll take a moment to give it a look, here.

A Journey such as this is something that no one person, crew, or Agency can undertake alone. As I like to tell the young people with whom I meet, it will take not only astronauts, scientists and engineers, but also, physicists, physicians, programmers, poets, teachers, designers, human capital professionals, entrepreneurs and parents who talk to their kids and get them excited about space. It will take folks working both in and out of government.

A mission of this magnitude is made stronger with international partnership – the sort of spirit and cooperation that is demonstrated so vividly by the tens of thousands of people across 15 countries who have been involved in the development and operation of the International Space Station.

This is the message I plan to share with our friends and partners next week at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Jerusalem.

Yesterday I joined the leaders of space agencies from around the world to talk about NASA’s Journey to Mars and the partnerships and cooperation that help make humanity’s common dreams a reality.

Tuesday, I’ll join leaders of the Israeli Space Agency to sign a framework agreement to continue ongoing cooperation. It extends our decades-long relationship working together in Earth science, discoveries in space and new technologies.

The late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon – who grew up about 50 miles from where we’ll be meeting – commented that “There is no better place to emphasize the unity of people in the world than flying in space. We are all the same people, we are all human beings, and I believe that most of us, almost all of us, are good people.”

Having been blessed with the opportunity to see the Earth from space with my own eyes, I cannot agree more with this sentiment.

NASA’s Journey to Mars is ongoing right now — from our Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to new propulsion and habitation systems – and our partnerships across sectors, across states and across the world make it stronger.

Supporting the People of South Carolina

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The hearts of the entire NASA family go out to our friends, family, colleagues and countrymen and women in South Carolina.  While the people of my home state have seen our share of tough times (including severe weather events), I cannot recall, in all my years growing up in the Palmetto State, rains and flooding as devastating as what has been going on this week.

As a child of Columbia, I can personally attest to the fact that South Carolinians are resilient.  As the people of the Palmetto State turn to the tough task of recovery and rebuilding, we hope that they will know that NASA is with them every step of the way – and we have been since the storm began.

From the time the rain began to fall, our assets in space were watching it and our scientists were harnessing these unique capabilities day after day for weather forecasters and the emergency agencies dealing with the flooding and other impacts of the storm.

NASA provided regular updates on the amount of rain falling across the region using data from the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. Data from the GPM Core Observatory that we launched with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) last year is combined with rainfall estimates from a constellation of international satellites to provide rainfall totals every three hours. These data not only confirmed the record-breaking rainfall totals in the Carolinas, they helped forecast the extent of flooding in the region.

Rainfall totals over the U.S. Southeast

Rainfall totals over the U.S. Southeast measured from space by the NASA/JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement mission aided weather forecasters and emergency agencies responding to extensive flooding in South Carolina.
Image credit: SSAI/NASA/JAXA, Hal Pierce

NASA provided the National Weather Service with detailed information about how water-saturated the ground was across the U.S. Southeast from the heavy rains – a key factor in forecasting flood conditions. Data from GPM and another NASA satellite, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission, were combined in the NASA Land Information System model to produce experimental soil moisture estimates as a new piece of information for short-term flood forecasting.

Maps of the location and severity of local flooding produced by a NASA-funded experimental modeling system at the University of Maryland were provided to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help identify hard hit areas across South Carolina. The system, fine-tuned with over a decade of previous NASA satellite precipitation data, used GPM data to estimate the intensity and location of floods every three hours.

It will be a while before South Carolina recovers from the enormous rainfall and flooding. The loss of life and property is a heartbreaking outcome of this disaster that will take more than time to heal. I want everyone in South Carolina and other parts of the world threatened by natural disasters to know that NASA is dedicated to using our scientific ingenuity and innovative satellite resources to help inform response and recovery efforts on the ground.

There are some who have suggested our country and our agency ought be doing less when it comes to Earth Science.  When tragedies like these occur, I believe it’s a reminder that we ought be doing more. As we make advances in studying Earth’s climate, weather, oceans, ice caps, and land cover, that long-term effort of scientific discovery also yields benefits in improving our ability to respond to and recover from natural disasters.

Today, Americans everywhere are thinking about our brothers and sisters in South Carolina.  We know that the Palmetto State will recover stronger, just like we always have.

A Partnership Connecting Space to Village

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The ISERV camera aboard the International Space Station acquired images of portions of Malawi (Africa) like this one that are being studied for changes in land use and subsistence agriculture. Residents of the villages adjacent to the mountainous region shown in this image are changing their land use patterns in response to changing climate and the demands of increased population.

The ISERV camera aboard the International Space Station acquired images of portions of Malawi (Africa) like this one that are being studied for changes in land use and subsistence agriculture. Residents of the villages adjacent to the mountainous region shown in this image are changing their land use patterns in response to changing climate and the demands of increased population. Credit: ISERV/NASA

NASA is deeply committed to Earth science and the value it provides people around the globe. We have been since our founding. It was my pleasure to attend the launch of the newest SERVIR hub — SERVIR-Mekong — in Thailand just a couple of weeks ago. Today, I joined hundreds of colleagues from our partner, USAID, and from around the world for a Town Hall about SERVIR and the impact of our global collaborations in Earth observation.

NASA and USAID have accomplished a lot together. Launch of this important new hub in the SERVIR network, which includes SERVIR-Himalaya, SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa and the Applied Sciences Team projects in Mesoamerica, is certainly tangible proof that what we’re doing is working.

We get a lot of questions about our Earth observation work at NASA. In fact, a lot of people aren’t even aware that it’s such a core function of the agency. But make no mistake, NASA is deeply committed to Earth science and the value it provides people around the globe. We have been since our founding.

The more the SERVIR network and other partnerships expand, the more opportunities we have to test and showcase our newest Earth observation satellites. Missions like Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM), Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) and others are now returning massive amounts of data and more Earth science missions are on the way.

I am also pleased that we are finding new ways to bring NASA’s science to meet USAID’s development objectives. We are excited that our scientists are being connected with international scientists to combine those people’s local knowledge with NASA’s Earth system science studies through USAID’s Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research, or PEER program. Twelve of our scientists now work with USAID-funded international collaborators to harness their collective knowledge for the benefit of development.

Our partnership between NASA and USAID allows us to work together to bring space to village. Moreover, it also is bringing “village to space” as NASA has learned new USAID terminology such as “results framework”, “indicators”, and “theory of change” – terms that are more than just words, but help benchmark impacts and ensure the successful outcome of our activities. Together, our agencies have worked in 4 regions and 37 countries, developed 62 tailored decision support tools using Earth observations, increased the capacity of over 300 institutions, enabled 120 university fellows from 24 countries, and trained over 2000 people.

The International Space Station also is becoming a platform for Earth observation. There’s the ISERV test bed camera used by SERVIR end users, for instance which has acquired more than 140,000 images of across 6 continents to support response to floods, wildfires, tropical storms, and other extreme events around the world. Other instruments aboard the Station, including RapidScat to monitor ocean winds and the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) to measure clouds and pollution, also are contributing to the wealth of Earth science data available to the public and to decision-makers like those SERVIR serves.

Together with our partners at USAID, we are all contributing to the effort to help bring our space-based science down to Earth for real time, real world applications that are changing the lives of people where they live.

The demand-driven approach of SERVIR is unique in the space world. The network is responsive and engaged and developing the demand-driven tools that are going to have the most impact for a specific region. I never doubted that there was a hunger for more information and ways for people everywhere to make a difference in their home regions, but the tools that SERVIR has provided have really started something special.

Just as the Space Station has become a model of international cooperation among nations who have many differences, so has SERVIR become a network not just of hubs, but also of regions and people.

I can’t think of anything more gratifying to demonstrate why our space program is vital to everyone on this planet.


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:

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