OCO-2 Launch: Another Asset in NASA’s Fleet to Observe and Protect Our Planet

Today, we launch the second of five incredible Earth Science missions this year. It’s the first time in a decade we’ve had so many Earth observatories headed to space in one year.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses Earth Science near the launch site for OCO-2. NASA photo by Bill Ingalls
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses Earth Science near the launch site for OCO-2. NASA photo by Bill Ingalls

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) is the first NASA satellite dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide. OCO-2 data will help reduce uncertainties in forecasts of future carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere and help us make more accurate predictions of global climate change. With up to 100,000 measurements per day, the satellite will provide new insight into locations and behavior of both carbon dioxide sources and “sinks” where it is absorbed on regional scales.

OCO-2 joins Japan’s Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT), launched in 2009, to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide. The missions use different measurement approaches that together will help scientists better understand this important greenhouse gas and its impacts on our present and future climate.

Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and with OCO-2 and our existing fleet of orbiting satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.

OCO-2 joins the “A-train” of satellites flying in formation that observe our planet globally on a daily basis. Our fleet of Earth-observing satellites, along with our airborne missions, ground observations, and researchers will help answer some of the critical challenges facing our planet today and in the future: climate change, sea level rise, freshwater resources, and extreme weather events.

Data and applications for societal benefit produced from NASA’s investment in Earth science research are directly accessible to decision-makers and stakeholders around the world anytime, anywhere. Our planet is changing, but NASA is on the job, helping us to understand and address the challenges we face and learn more about our planet each day.

Technology Drives Exploration

NASA’s missions of the future are going to depend on new technologies that will be evolvable and applicable across a broad range of missions. We are dedicated to extending human presence into the solar system and to the surface of Mars, and new technologies and advanced capabilities are essential to safely taking us from Earth-reliant to Earth-independent missions, and the surest path to an eventual crewed landing on Mars.

NASA's new technologies in development will be usable across many missions.
NASA’s new technologies in development will be usable across many missions.

Sustained investment in these technologies advances the agency’s exploration capabilities and supports the innovation economy. What that means in tangible terms is that transformative capabilities and cutting-edge new technologies are being developed, tested and flown today.

While Mars is the goal, we recognize the capabilities of space-faring nations today are not sufficient to safely land and return humans from the surface of the Red Planet, as we know we have gaps in our scientific, engineering and technological knowledge.

This summer there will be a series of exciting launches and demonstrations across NASA that will illustrate the innovative and critical technology development efforts supporting deep space exploration, science, and aeronautics missions.

They begin with the planned test flight this week through early June of the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD). The LDSD is designed to investigate breakthrough technologies that will benefit landing future human and robotic Mars missions, as well as aid in safely returning large payloads to Earth. The parachute we are demonstrating in this test yields 30-40 percent more landed mass over the Mars Science Laboratory heritage system that brought Curiosity to Mars, with improved altitude and accuracy performance. And if we are successful, we may be able to utilize this parachute on our upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission.

Other upcoming technology demonstrations include: testing of a composite cryogenic propellant tank and a high-powered solar array for a future solar electric propulsion system, demonstration of an advanced EVA space suit with portable life support system, delivery of a 3D printer to the International Space Station, and the launch of a new climate-studying imager.

Additionally, NASA is hard at work on technology transfer and collaboration. The online publication Spinoff 2013 highlighting these commercial products created using NASA-developed technology is now available at: http://spinoff.nasa.gov

Groundbreaking space technologies will help enable new missions, stimulate the economy, contribute to the nation’s global competitiveness, and inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers. With the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift rocket and Orion spacecraft coming online soon, the next great leaps in space exploration are within our grasp, but these leaps require our continued investments in technology today.

In order to explore an asteroid, or someday land humans on the surface of Mars, we need sustained and substantial investments in advanced space technologies and an enduring focus on cultivating innovation at NASA. After all, technology drives exploration — it provides the onramp for new capabilities and creates a pipeline that matures them from early-stage through flight.

Our near term activities are going to be defined by a regular cadence of compelling human and robotic missions building to more complex missions over time, from a one-year increment aboard the station, to the proving ground of a mission to an asteroid and finally to an Earth-independent mission to Mars. Technology will be a driving force behind all of this work.

For more information, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/technology

NASA at the White House Science Fair

Today, I was pleased to join President Obama at the White House for the 2014 White House Science Fair recognizing the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. This year’s fair is especially focused on girls and women who are excelling in STEM and inspiring the next generation with their work. In addition to recognizing the achievements of the students, the President also announced new steps as part of his Educate to Innovate campaign, designed to engage and support more girls and boys in STEM education. As a major driver of science, technology and innovation, NASA has made STEM education the centerpiece of our outreach to schools and students throughout the nation.

 

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with an all-girl engineering team that participated in the White House Science Fair. "Team Rocket Power" was one of 100 teams that qualified for last year’s Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). Nia'mani Robinson, 15, Jasmyn Logan, 15, and Rebecca Chapin-Ridgely, 17, gave up their weekends and free time after school to build and test their bright purple rocket, which is designed to launch to an altitude of about 750 ft, and then return a “payload” (an egg) to the ground safely. The fourth White House Science Fair was held at the White House on May 27, 2014 and included 100 students from more than 30 different states who competed in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions. (Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden poses with an all-girl engineering team that participated in the White House Science Fair. “Team Rocket Power” was one of 100 teams that qualified for last year’s Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). Nia’mani Robinson, 15, Jasmyn Logan, 15, and Rebecca Chapin-Ridgely, 17, gave up their weekends and free time after school to build and test their bright purple rocket, which is designed to launch to an altitude of about 750 ft, and then return a “payload” (an egg) to the ground safely. The fourth White House Science Fair was held at the White House on May 27, 2014 and included 100 students from more than 30 different states who competed in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions. (Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Through our educational partnerships with teachers, students and schools, we are committed to inspiring the next generation of scientists and explorers who will keep America in the forefront of technology, innovation and space exploration.

As is well known, there is a crisis in this country that stems from the gap between our growing need for scientists, engineers, and other technically skilled workers, and our available supply. It is also well known that women and minorities continue to earn a paucity of the science and engineering degrees earned by U.S. citizens and to be underrepresented in the STEM fields. We must close those gaps if America is to remain in the forefront of the rapidly evolving, highly competitive, global technology market.

That is why we have made STEM education a priority at NASA. And today at the White House Science Fair, I was pleased to announce an exciting new resource for students. NASA and Khan Academy, a non-profit educational website, have initiated a series of online tutorials designed to increase student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFWV8ZEnfGw[/embedyt]

The interactive education lessons invite users to become actively engaged in the scientific and mathematical protocols that NASA uses every day to measure our universe, to explore the exciting engineering challenges involved in launching and landing spacecraft on Mars, and to learn about other space exploration endeavors and destinations. These dynamic educational materials are free and available on the Khan Academy’s website:

https://www.khanacademy.org/nasa

The Science Fair’s focus on girls reminds us that NASA is a major employer of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and one of our priorities is inspiring young women to pursue an education and career in the STEM pipeline. For example, half of the eight newest members of our astronaut candidates in the Class of 2013 are women – the highest percentage ever – and we hope to maintain this level of diversity in our ranks in the years ahead.

But at NASA women are not only astronauts; they also run science missions. They engineer and build our many spacecraft. Our chief financial officer, chief scientist and one of our field center directors are women. They are program managers, budget analysts and communicators. They serve in every capacity and continue to prove something we all know – as Amelia Earhart famously said, men and women are equal “in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness and willpower.”

I saw that first-hand at the White House Science fair which included the members of Oklahoma-based Girl Scout Troop 2612 – Avery Dodson, 7; Natalie Hurley, 8; Miriam Schaffer, 8; Claire Winton, 8; and Lucy Claire Sharp, 8. These girls put their preparedness skills into action as part of the Junior FIRST Lego League’s Disaster Blaster Challenge. The Challenge invites thousands of elementary-school-aged students from across the country to explore how simple machines, motorized parts, engineering, and math can help solve problems posed by natural disasters like floods or earthquakes.

NASA is embarking on the most exciting human spaceflight missions in our storied history. We are charting a path to Mars. Our Asteroid Redirect Mission will send humans to an asteroid for the first time and our International Space Station is helping us perfect the technologies to achieve these ambitious goals. Our need for STEM educated workers will only increase in the coming years. Today’s White House Science Fair makes it clear that there is no shortage of young people who want to be a part of America’s technology future. We stand with President Obama in pledging to give them the support and the opportunities they need to succeed.

The German Space Agency Is a Vital NASA Partner

This week, I am in Berlin for meetings with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel as well as the head of the German Space Agency (DLR), Johann-Dietrich Worner, and top officials from the European Space Agency (ESA).  I am also representing NASA at the world famous Berlin Air Show.  My visit to Germany is a chance to reaffirm the strong and growing alliance between NASA, DLR and our other European partners, and to highlight a number of important collaborations that are currently underway, including DLR’s help in charting NASA’s ambitious path to Mars.

In fact, today, I have the high honor of presenting German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a model of Orion, NASA’s next generation deep space exploration vehicle that will be used for our Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and eventually, for a human mission to Mars.  As Orion is being readied for its first test flight later this year, DLR, through the European Space Agency (ESA), is helping develop the spacecraft’s service module, which will provide essential in-space propulsion and life support systems for human crews.  This is only one of many areas of cooperation between NASA and DLR.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden presents German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a model of the Orion crew vehicle at the Berlin Air Show. The European Space Agency is providing the spacecraft's service module. Photo credit: European Space Agency (ESA).
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden presents German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a model of the Orion crew vehicle at the Berlin Air Show. The European Space Agency is providing the spacecraft’s service module. Photo credit: European Space Agency (ESA).

The success of the International Space Station (ISS), our springboard to Mars and deep space, would not be possible without German support.  DLR is our largest European partner for ISS and has been involved in missions for the past 13 years.  In just a few days, ESA German Astronaut, Alexander Gerst will launch to the Space Station along with Expedition 40/41 crewmates, Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev and NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman.  During their six-month stay aboard the ISS, dubbed the “Blue Dot” mission in a nod to Carl Sagan’s description of Earth as a “pale blue dot,” Gerst and his crewmates will conduct a series of scientific experiments designed to improve life on Earth and prepare for future human missions.

Our German partners are also providing critical support as NASA prepares its path to Mars.  In addition to its work on the Orion service module, DLR may provide scientific instrumentation for our planned Mars 2020 rover.  They are also leading the development of the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, or MOMA, for the ESA 2018 ExoMars rover.  Two of the three instruments to be launched with NASA’s 2016 InSight mission to Mars, will be provided by European partners: a heat-flow probe provided by DLR and a seismometer provided by CNES, the French Space Agency.

Finally, closer to home, DLR is one of NASA’s closest international partners in aeronautics.  Our organizations are founding members of the International Forum for Aviation Research (IFAR).  Just last week, during my visit to the newly renamed Armstrong Flight Research Center, I had the opportunity to view the planes used on one of our joint aeronautics research projects – ACCESS II, a joint venture involving NASA, DLR of Germany and the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada, to study the atmospheric effects of emissions from jet engines burning alternative fuels.  Understanding the impacts of alternative fuel use in aviation could help solve some of the key operational and environmental challenges facing aviation worldwide in the 21st century.  I plan to see the ACCESS II planes and meet with our aeronautics team at the Berlin Air Show.

NASA’s partnership in the sky with DLR is paying big dividends on Earth for both Germany and the United States.  We look forward to continuing to work together to expand our reach into space and bring new benefits to Earth.

 

NASA’s Role in Climate Assessment

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 Earth-observing satellite – Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface taken on January 4, 2012. The satellite 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

NASA’s role in studying and protecting our home planet has never been stronger. Climate change is a problem we must deal with right now, and our Earth science satellite missions have become ever more vital to documenting and understanding our home planet, predicting the ramifications of this change, and sharing information across the globe for everyone’s benefit.

Today, the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment was released.  The report is the most authoritative and comprehensive source of scientific information ever generated about climate-change impacts on all major regions of the United States and critical sectors of society and the national economy. It presents an influential body of practical, useable knowledge that decision-makers will use to anticipate and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

The assessment reports on a broad range of topics that illuminate the interconnectedness of everything tied to climate. The focused approaches used to conduct the analyses in this report will help us build the capability to do better and more regular climate assessments in the future.  I am proud that NASA data and NASA scientists contributed to the research reported in many of the Assessment’s chapters.

We can already see the impacts of climate change around the world, especially through the lens of our satellites. The U.S. National Climate Assessment combined observations from NASA’s incredible fleet of Earth observation satellites with surface-based and satellite data from our interagency and international partners, to help us understand what’s going on globally in areas such as polar ice, precipitation extremes, temperature change, sea level rise and forest ecosystems.

Five NASA Earth Science missions will be launched into space in 2014 alone. Together with NASA’s existing fleet of satellites, airborne missions, researchers, and the unique platform of the International Space Station (ISS), these new missions will help answer some of the critical challenges facing our planet today and in the future.

The Global Precipitation Measurement core observatory launched in February is already helping us learn more about rainfall patterns worldwide. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2), slated for a July launch, will map the greenhouse gas globally, providing new insights into where and how it moves into and out of the atmosphere. The RapidScat instrument to measure wind speed and direction over the oceans, and the CATS lidar instrument to measure aerosols and cloud properties will be installed on the ISS.  The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission will launch in November, to measure soil moisture over the globe and freeze-thaw timing.

All of the data NASA collects is widely disseminated and helps many people to make wise decisions about how we care for our planet, as well as predict and cope with changes in climate and extreme weather events. The National Climate Assessment is an example of how critical the NASA data and research are.

Please take some time to review this important document at: www.globalchange.gov.

Celebrating Earth Day

Observations of our home planet – and improving life on it for every resident – have always been at the core of NASA’s mission, and this year we’ll demonstrate that in multiple ways with a remarkable five Earth science launches.

NASA ventures into space not only to explore beyond Earth – we also venture into space to get to know Earth better.  It’s only from space that we really get to understand our home planet.

In 2014, for the first time in more than a decade, five NASA Earth Science missions will be launched into space in one year.  Together with NASA’s existing fleet of satellites, airborne missions, and researchers, these new missions will help answer some of the critical challenges facing our planet today and in the future: climate change; sea level rise; access to freshwater resources; and extreme weather events.

These new missions highlight NASA’s role as an innovation leader in Earth and climate science.  They’re helping us build a constantly expanding view of our planet from space and are backed by an exceptional team of experts and decades of innovative scientific and technical research.

Back in February, we successfully launched the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory with Japan’s space agency.  GPM inaugurates an unprecedented international satellite constellation to produce frequent global observations of rainfall and snowfall — revolutionary new data that will help answer questions about our planet’s life-sustaining water cycle and improve weather forecasting and water resource management.

With the launch of two Earth science instruments to the International Space Station scheduled for this year — RapidScat and CATS — NASA will for the first time use our unique orbiting laboratory as a 24/7 Earth-observing platform to collect critical information about ocean winds, clouds, and aerosol particles for climate research, weather forecasting, and hurricane monitoring.

Advances in understanding carbon dioxide’s role in climate change are expected after NASA returns the Orbiting Carbon Observatory to flight in July after a 2009 launch failure.  OCO-2 will map the greenhouse gas globally, providing new insights into where and how it moves into and out of the atmosphere.

On a water planet like Earth, “following the water” is a massive undertaking but one that is essential to predicting the future of our climate and the availability of water resources around the globe.  With the launch of the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission this year, NASA will track water into one of its last hiding places: Earth’s soil.  Coupled with GPM and the NASA Aquarius instrument measuring sea-surface salinity and the GRACE mission, which can detect changes in underground aquifers, we will have unprecedented measurements of our planet’s vital water cycle.

In 2014 NASA also wraps up a three-year campaign to study Atlantic hurricanes with unmanned aircraft and advances the development of a new satellite constellation — CYGNSS, to launch in 2016 — to probe these storms worldwide with GPS signals.

Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.

But beyond hard data, our Earth science missions help us appreciate our planet as the beautiful, fragile oasis it is.  From the Station we are fortunate to be able to really see and appreciate Earth as a beautiful and dynamic world worth protecting.  From our science satellites, we get a full and rich picture of how our planet works.

With the new tools we’re sending to space this year, NASA gives the world a better view of our planet.  Our new satellites and instruments aboard the Station join an already incredible fleet of Earth observation satellites examining ocean temperatures and salinity, changes in land cover and the atmosphere, climate change and many other factors that affect us all.

NASA research yields down-to-earth benefits such as improved environmental prediction, preparing for natural hazards, and anticipating the impacts of climate change.

You can be sure that we will continue to share this knowledge with the world to improve and protect life here on Earth.  I’d say that’s a perfect way to celebrate Earth Day, every day.

 

NASA Leading the Path to Mars

Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Last week, our solar system put on quite a show.  An alignment of Earth, moon and sun, produced a rare and spectacular blood moon lunar eclipse.  In addition, Mars made its closest approach to Earth since 2007.  And even as Mars drew tantalizingly close to Earth, NASA is drawing nearer to our goal of a human mission to the Red Planet.  This week, April 22-24, NASA joins with the non-profit group, Explore Mars, and more than 1,500 leaders from government, academia, and business at the Humans to Mars (H2M) Summit 2014 at George Washington University to discuss the value, challenges and status of America’s path to Mars.

While NASA has been on a path to Mars for decades with our earlier Mars rovers and orbiters, a critical national policy statement in support of our strategy was made on April 15, 2010 during a visit by President Obama to Kennedy Space Center where he challenged the nation to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s.  Since then, NASA has been developing the capabilities to meet those goals through a bipartisan space exploration plan agreed to by the administration and Congress and embraced by the international space community.  While humans have been fascinated with Mars since the beginning of time, there are a number of very tangible reasons why we need to learn more about our closest planetary neighbor.  For one thing, Mars’ formation and evolution are comparable to Earth’s and we know that at one time Mars had conditions suitable for life.  What we learn about the Red Planet may tell us more about our own home planet’s history and future and help us answer a fundamental human question – does life exist beyond Earth?

While robotic explorers have studied Mars for more than 40 years, NASA’s path for the human exploration of Mars begins in low-Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS) our springboard to the exploration of deep space.  Astronauts aboard the ISS are helping us learn how to safely execute extended missions deeper into space.  We are guaranteed this unique orbiting outpost for at least another decade by the Administration’s commitment to extend the ISS until at least 2024.  This means an expanded market for private space companies, more groundbreaking research and science discovery in micro-gravity and opportunities to live, work and learn in space over longer periods of time.

Our next step is deep space, where NASA will send the first mission to capture and redirect an asteroid to orbit the moon.  Astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples. This experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit will help NASA test new systems and capabilities – such as Solar Electric Propulsion – we’ll need to support a human mission to Mars.  Beginning in 2017, NASA’s powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will enable these “proving ground” missions to test new capabilities.  Human missions to Mars will rely on Orion and an evolved version of SLS that will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever flown.

A fleet of robotic spacecraft and rovers already are on and around Mars, dramatically increasing our knowledge about the Red Planet and paving the way for future human explorers.  The Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover measured radiation on the way to Mars and is sending back radiation data from the surface.  This data will help us plan how to protect the astronauts who will explore Mars.  Future missions like the Mars 2020 rover, seeking the signs of past life, also will demonstrate new technologies that could help astronauts survive on Mars.

Engineers and scientists around the country are working hard to develop the technologies astronauts will use to one day live and work on Mars, and safely return home and the Humans to Mars Summit this week is bringing together the best minds to share ideas about the path ahead.  NASA will be leading the charge.

It is important to remember that NASA sent humans to the moon by setting a goal that seemed beyond our reach.   In that same spirit, we have made a human mission to Mars the centerpiece of our next big leap into the unknown.  The challenge is huge, but we are making real progress today as a radiation monitor on the Curiosity rover records the Martian radiation environment that our crews will experience; advanced entry, descent and landing technologies needed for landing on Mars are ready for entry speed testing high-above the waters of the Pacific Ocean in June; Orion is finishing preparation for a heat shield test in December; and flight hardware for the heavy lift rocket necessary for Mars missions begins manufacture in New Orleans.  The future of space exploration is bright, and we are counting on the support of Congress, the scientific community and the American people to help us realize our goals.

The Path to Mars

I have had several opportunities the past few weeks to testify before Congress and explain to the American people the ambitious exploration plan NASA has been implementing the past few years.  It is a plan that reflects a steady stepping stone approach to meet President Obama’s challenge of advancing deep space technologies through our Asteroid Redirect Mission and sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.  Last year, 11 other space agencies agreed we share a common interest in advancing a unified space exploration strategy through their support of a Global Exploration Roadmap.

path to mars
NASA’s Path to Mars

The success of this plan begins with the International Space Station (ISS) — our springboard to the exploration of deep space.  The Obama Administration’s commitment to extend the ISS until at least 2024 will ensure that we have this unique orbiting outpost for at least another decade.  This means an expanded market for private space companies, more groundbreaking research and science discovery in micro-gravity and opportunities to live, work and learn in space over longer periods of time.

Astronauts aboard the ISS are helping us learn how to safely execute extended missions deeper into space.  Later this year, we will see Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) of Orion.  NASA is pressing forward with development of the Space Launch System and Orion, preparing for an uncrewed mission of the two together in FY 2018.

The President’s 2015 budget also supports the Administration’s commitment that NASA be a catalyst for the growth of a vibrant American commercial space industry.

Already two companies – SpaceX and Orbital Sciences – are making regular cargo deliveries to the Space Station.  While the Russian Federal Space Agency remains a strong and reliable partner –this week NASA purchased more seats on the Soyuz spacecraft to help keep the Space Station operating—later this year NASA intends to select from American companies competing to send astronauts to the Station from American soil.  With the President’s request, we believe we can do this by the end of 2017.

In addition to continuing ISS research, strengthening partnerships with commercial and international partners, and building the next generation heavy-lift rocket and crew capsule to take our astronauts farther into space than ever before, our stepping-stone approach includes a plan to robotically capture a small near-Earth asteroid and redirect it safely to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system where astronauts can visit and explore it.

Our Asteroid Redirect Mission will help us develop technologies, including Solar Electric Propulsion, needed for future deep space missions to Mars, as well as other NASA and commercial activities.  Under our asteroid initiative, we enhance detection and characterization of Near Earth Objects and improve understanding of asteroid threats to planet Earth.

NASA’s FY 2015 request continues support for science missions heading toward destinations such as Jupiter and Pluto.  It enables NASA to continue making critical observations of Earth and developing applications to directly benefit our nation and the world.  It maintains steady progress on the James Webb Space Telescope toward its 2018 launch.

Our aeronautics program will continue to focus on substantially reducing fuel consumption, emissions and noise to help make the Next Generation Air Transportation System – or NextGen – a reality.

All of NASA’s investments help drive technology and innovation, spur economic activity and create jobs.  That is why the President’s Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative would provide NASA nearly $900 million in additional funding in FY 15 to focus on specific areas where we can advance our priorities.

NASA sent humans to the moon by setting a goal that seemed beyond our reach.  In that same spirit, we have made a human mission to Mars the centerpiece of our next big leap into the unknown.  We are counting on the support of Congress and the American people to help us realize that goal.

Bringing Space Launches Back to America

Later today, NASA astronaut Steve Swanson will liftoff towards the International Space Station, not from the Space Coast of Florida or some other American spaceport, but from Kazakhstan on a Russian spacecraft.    And unfortunately, the plan put forward by the Obama Administration to address this situation has been stymied by some in Congress.     

Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle – a decision made in 2004 – the United States has been dependent on the Russians to get our astronauts to the International Space Station.   Recognizing that this was unacceptable, President Obama has requested in NASA’s budget more than $800 million each of the past 5 years to incentivize the American aerospace industry to build the spacecraft needed to launch our astronauts from American soil.     Had this plan been fully funded, we would have returned American human spaceflight launches – and the jobs they support – back to the United States next year.    With the reduced level of funding approved by Congress, we’re now looking at launching from U.S. soil in 2017.

Budgets are about choices.  The choice moving forward is between fully funding the President’s request to bring space launches back to American soil or continuing to send millions to the Russians.  It’s that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America – and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same.

Over the past few years, two U.S. companies, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, have demonstrated a new way of partnering NASA with the U.S. aerospace industry, providing more bang for the taxpayer buck in space.  There have already been five private spacecraft visits to the ISS with the Dragon and Cygnus capsules – and another one is slated to launch in just a few days.  At the end of last year, SpaceX launched a commercial satellite—a global industry worth nearly $190 billion per year—from Florida for the first time in four years.  One study estimated that if NASA had procured this launcher and capsule using a more traditional contracting method, it could have been about three times the cost of this new public-private partnership approach.

NASA has already returned ISS cargo resupply missions to America using these two companies, bringing space launches and jobs back to our shores – and we are using the same model send our astronauts to the space station.  Three American companies – Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX – are developing spacecraft and competing to replace the Space Shuttle and launch American astronauts within the next three years. We are betting on American innovation and competition to help lead us into a new era of space exploration.  As President Obama has said, this is “a capture the flag moment for [U.S.] commercial space flight.”

 Earlier this month, the President proposed a $17.5 billion fiscal year 2015 budget for NASA.  This includes $848 million for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and supports the Administration’s commitment that NASA be a catalyst for the growth of a vibrant American commercial space industry.  It also keeps us on target to ending our reliance on the Russians for transporting our astronauts to and from space, and frees NASA to carry out even more ambitious missions beyond low-Earth orbit, including a mission to redirect and visit an asteroid and a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.  The International Space Station—which the Obama Administration just extended to at least 2024—remains our springboard to going beyond the Moon and exploring deep space for the first time. 

The American commercial space flight industry is boosting our economy and creating thousands of good paying jobs.  More than a dozen states in the U.S. are trying to build spaceports, hoping to help foster the next job-creating, innovation-based industry in their areas.

With such strong economic potential, it is no wonder that this approach has garnered bipartisan support. House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently noted, “Support for U.S. commercial space will lead to American astronauts flying on American-made rockets from American soil.”  He added, “That is exceptionalism that both parties can get behind.”

It is important to note that NASA continues to cooperate successfully with Russia on International Space Station (ISS) activities.  But even as the “space race” has evolved over the past 50 years from competition to collaboration with Russia, NASA is rightfully focused now more than ever on returning our astronauts to space aboard American rockets – launched from U.S. soil – as soon as possible.

 

NASA Astronaut Candidates at the White House

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

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

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

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