Curiosity Takes Us Back to Mars

NASA is back on Mars – and getting ready for the next mission to the Red Planet! After an astounding 352 million mile journey and a harrowing landing that demonstrated cutting-edge technology, Curiosity, the largest rover ever sent to another planet, is in place and ready to work. This robotic laboratory will seek answers to one of humanity’s oldest questions as it investigates whether conditions have favored development of microbial life on the Red Planet. The mission is a critical planetary science mission — and a precursor to sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030’s, a goal set forth by President Obama.

It’s another great leadership moment for our nation and a sign of the continued strength of NASA’s many programs in science, aeronautics and human spaceflight. It’s also important to remember that the $2.5 billion investment made in this project was not spent on Mars, but right here on Earth, supporting more than 7,000 jobs in at least 31  states.

With the retirement of the Shuttle program after its final flight in July 2011, some have suggested that NASA’s leadership in the exploration of space, including our extraordinary successes on Mars, was coming to an end. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Curiosity mission is only the latest in a long list of extraordinary NASA missions that established the United States as the undisputed world leader, and it will help guarantee that remains the case for many years to come.

When our Orion deep space crew vehicle takes its first test flight in 2014, it will travel farther into space than any spacecraft designed for humans has flown in the 40 years since our astronauts returned from the moon.

In 2017, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, will launch Orion.

We also reached a critically important milestone in May when SpaceX became the first private company to send a spacecraft — the Dragon cargo capsule — to the International Space Station and return it with cargo intact. This successful mission ushered in a new era in spaceflight — and signaled a new way of doing business for NASA. And just a few days ago, we announced the next step in the Obama Administration’s aggressive plan to once again launch our astronauts from U.S. soil on spacecraft built by American companies.

As part of our commitment to maintain American leadership in the exploration of Mars beyond the Curiosity mission, NASA will launch the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter next year. Earlier this year, I directed NASA’s science mission director, along with the head of human exploration, Chief Technologist, and Chief Scientist to develop a more integrated strategy to ensure that the next steps for Mars exploration will support the nation’s planetary science objectives as well as our human exploration goals. They are looking at many options, including another robotic mission to land on Mars in this decade.

I am so proud of the NASA team that has made tonight’s challenging milestone possible. However, tomorrow we begin to plan for the next great challenge — and start compiling incredible scientific data from Curiosity. For the past 50 years, NASA has specialized in doing the hard things. Thanks to the ingenuity of our teams across America and the world, we are poised for even greater success.

For more information about Curiosity and NASA’s missions to Mars, visit:


The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team in the MSL Mission Support Area reacts after learning the the Curiosity rover has landed safely on Mars and images start coming in at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012, in Pasadena, Calif. The MSL Rover named Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Next Phase of Commercial Crew is Here

Today, I am with Kennedy Space Center Director, Bob Cabana and the program manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Ed Mango, to announce the selection of three companies for the next phase of our efforts to develop private sector capabilities that will keep us on track to end the outsourcing of America’s human spaceflight program.

They are: The Boeing Company, Space Exploration Technologies and Sierra Nevada Corporation.

We have selected these companies to develop crew transportation capabilities as fully integrated systems.

Each of these companies has proven track records in the aerospace industry.

By keeping three companies in the mix, we not only ensure competition, which is good for the taxpayers, we also guarantee that we never find ourselves in the situation we’re in today — dependent on a sole provider to get our crew to space.

For the next 21 months, these partners will perform tests and complete designs.

Through this initiative NASA will help the private sector design and develop the human spaceflight capability that could ultimately lead to the availability of human spaceflight services for both government and commercial customers.

And we’ll also help support the creation of high-paying technology jobs in Florida and across the country.

The ultimate goal of our Commercial Crew space program — a high priority of the Obama Administration — is to bring human spaceflight launches back here to American soil and end the outsourcing of these important jobs.

Our U.S. industry partners will help us achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low Earth orbit.

This strategy allows us to concentrate on building America’s next generation space exploration system, the Orion spacecraft, and the Space Launch System — the vehicle and rocket that will take American astronauts farther into space than any spacecraft developed for human spaceflight has flown in the 40 years since our astronauts returned from the moon.

We made the announcement at Kennedy Space Center for two reasons. First, as Kennedy celebrates 50 years as America’s gateway to space, we are proud that it is now the launch pad for the next big leap in the nation’s space program — our Commercial Crew Program, which is headquartered here. And second, just two years ago, at Kennedy Space Center, President Obama set a goal of sending humans farther into space than we have ever been — to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s.

NASA’s exploration strategy is producing tangible results and the teams in Florida and across the nation are making steady progress.

Our commercial crew and cargo efforts are based on a simple but powerful principle: By investing in American companies — and American ingenuity — we are spurring free-market competition to give taxpayers more bang for the buck, while enabling NASA to do what it does best — reach for the heavens.

For more about NASA’s commercial partnerships, visit:


Tomorrow's Rocket Taking Shape Today

At NASA we’re constantly reaching for new heights and bringing about a future where we can do more than we can do today. We’re making the impossible possible. We’re helping to create jobs while we do it. We’ve done it many times in the past, and now we’re striving to do it again by building the largest rocket the world has ever seen to carry humans farther into to space than ever before. Today we take one more step on that path.

In order to reach the deep space destinations like an asteroid and Mars, our Space Launch System, or SLS, will require boosters similar to, but more powerful than those we designed for the space shuttle. Today, NASA selected six proposals to improve the affordability, reliability, and performance of an advanced booster for the SLS. The companies selected will develop engineering demonstrations and risk reduction concepts for the heavy-lift rocket — a launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

The SLS is crucial to our future exploration plans, and we look forward to the concepts and ideas that these companies will give us. The funding for this work is contingent, however, on Congress providing the resources that President Obama has requested in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget request.

A new era of space exploration has already begun. Commercial partners are making more and more milestones, such as SpaceX’s historic launch, berthing, and return of the Dragon capsule in May. With commercial space well on its way to taking over the transport to low Earth orbit that NASA pioneered, it’s time again for NASA to innovate by doing the next big thing no one can right now.

NASA is lining up the work to continue aggressively on a new transportation system to get American astronauts on missions to an asteroid and Mars. The Orion crew vehicle that will ride atop the SLS is already well into development. In 2014 our prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, will launch it on an unmanned flight that will simulate a lunar mission re-entry. This will help us buy down risks on the ultimate human-certified vehicle. We can’t stop now on the SLS, and we look forward to the support we need to carry out the work that a bi-partisan majority in Congress has supported to take America’s space program to new destinations and keep us reaching higher.

To read more about SLS, visit:

One-Stop Shop for NASA Technologies Available for Transfer

NASA recently released a new Web-based tool that provides the public, citizen inventors, and American businesses improved access to the agency’s unique intellectual property assets that are available for technology transfer. I’m proud to say NASA is the first federal agency to have its complete intellectual portfolio available in one online location.

Through our technology transfer program, NASA has a legacy of providing public benefit from the research and development we do to explore space and improve aeronautics. Our technology transfer efforts continue to be forward leaning and innovative. We’re committed to this robust program, and it’s good for the nation.

NASA designs technologies to solve difficult problems. Many of the same challenges we face here on Earth can directly benefit from space technology through the creation of commercial products and services.

Devices designed to operate in harsh, remote, high stress environments with limited servicing, for instance, can be used in some of the extreme locations found on Earth. Strong, lightweight materials that can withstand the extraordinary temperatures of space have applications on aircraft and in industrial manufacturing systems found throughout America. The lifesaving techniques, protocols, and tools NASA uses when the nearest doctor is more than 200 miles away can be applied to healthcare and remote telemedicine here on Earth. Recycling systems for closed environments, as well as energy generation and storage methods developed for use aboard the International Space Station provide benefits and innovative solutions to today’s need for dependable, renewable resources for America.

As NASA develops technologies that provide new knowledge and capabilities that will enable our current and future missions, we remain committed to providing a return on investment to the American taxpayer through our technology transfer efforts.

The use of NASA technologies by industry spurs job growth and U.S. economic competitiveness while improving our everyday lives. I encourage you to visit our new Technology Transfer Portal, where you can find success stories from our past and new partnering opportunities available today.

Visit NASA’s Technology Transfer Portal at:


Talking to Explorers Underwater

Yesterday I placed a call to the explorers currently undertaking a 12-day mission beneath the waves of the Florida Keys to help us test and prove concepts for outer space missions. The 16th crew of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) is focusing their activities on helping us understand what a mission to an asteroid will be like.

The international crew of four aquanauts has been working in its home in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aquarius Reef Base undersea research habitat off the coast of Key Largo, 63 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Aquarius provides a convincing simulation of space exploration, and NEEMO crew members experience some of the same tasks and challenges under water that they would in space.

This crew of NEEMO aquanauts has been investigating communication delays, restraint and translation techniques, and optimum crew size as they relate to a human mission to an asteroid. I was happy to speak to NEEMO 16 Commander Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger of NASA, and European Space Agency astronaut Timothy Peake as they undertook the final “spacewalk” of the mission. The two are joined in Aquarius by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Kimiya Yui and Steven W. Squyres, Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University and chairman of the NASA Advisory Council. Steve was also a member of the shortened NEEMO 15 mission.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System rocket, which currently are in development, will allow people to begin exploring beyond the boundaries of Earth’s orbit. The first human mission to an asteroid is planned for 2025. Along with the multiple paths on which NASA is working to develop the capabilities to reach farther destinations, NEEMO is one more example of how the future of spaceflight is unfolding right now.

For more information about NEEMO, visit:

The crew gathers in front of the hatch to the Aquarius undersea laboratory on June 11, 2012 for the start of the NEEMO 16 mission. The aquanauts will live in this habitat for two weeks, conducting research and simulating mission activities in the water’s low gravity. Credit: Mark Widick.

NASA Working with Other Federal Agencies to Develop Common Guidelines for Title IX Compliance

At a White House meeting in advance of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, NASA Associate Administrator for Diversity and Equal Opportunity, Brenda Manuel, was named to an interagency board tasked with developing common compliance guidance for grant recipient institutions. Title IX was signed into law in 1972, requiring equal access to all educational programs and activities of a school, university or other entity receiving federal financial assistance. A White House statement noted that, “At a time when many universities barred the admission of women and when female sports teams were scarce, Title IX marked a momentous shift for women’s equality in classrooms, on playing fields, and in communities throughout our nation.”

NASA has long recognized the importance of Title IX as a means for ensuring equal opportunities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) fields to which we provide federal dollars. And while 40 years after its enactment, more women than men graduate from college with bachelor’s degrees, women’s participation in the STEM fields remains disproportionately low.

That is why, beginning in 2004, NASA began conducting compliance reviews of its educational grant recipient institutions to ensure they were in compliance with Title IX requirements. In 2009, in an effort to provide more extensive and meaningful assistance to our grantees, NASA issued a publication called “Title IX and STEM: Promising Practices for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” In doing so, NASA moved beyond compliance-only reviews to also provide examples of successful university STEM programs and practices.

As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of Title IX, I am pleased to announce the issuance of NASA’s newest Title IX publication, “Title IX and STEM: A Guide for Conducting Title IX Self-Evaluations.” This publication has been designed as a tool to help our grant recipients understand and use Title IX compliance assessments, complete with data analysis and questions to be answered, to improve their STEM programs. Our work on this publication is one of the reasons NASA was asked to join the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Health and Human Services in a consolidated effort to develop common guidelines for grant institutions to comply with Title IX.

In addition to serving on this interagency board we are moving ahead to provide copies of our newest Title IX publication to all of our college and university grant recipients, which now number around 350. We have posted an electronic version of the publication on our NASA website. This will soon be followed by an interactive version of the document, which will allow users to record comments and answers to questions as they review their programs. It will also provide a data tool to facilitate analysis of student statistics.

I am tremendously proud of NASA’s accomplishments with regard to Title IX. By helping universities create and sustain welcoming and inclusive program environments, we play an important role in building America’s STEM workforce of the future. Forty years after the passage of Title IX, NASA remains true to its vision that every American, male or female, with an interest in STEM has every opportunity to pursue his or her dream of choice – and succeed.

To view our new publication, visit:


Witnessing the Future Today

I had an opportunity this week to visit the men and women at SpaceX, who along with their NASA teammates, are writing the next chapter of American space exploration history. SpaceX head Elon Musk and I inspected the historic Dragon spacecraft in McGregor, Texas, and saw the cargo that had been returned from the International Space Station. It was great to see tangible proof that the course we’re on allowing private industry to take over transportation to low-Earth orbit is sound and moving forward.

I also had a chance to visit the team at SpaceX’s headquarters in California, where the Dragon that first orbited the Earth in 2010 is housed, and congratulate them on the hard work they are doing on behalf of our nation. The door to commercial space is swinging broadly open thanks to the dedication and innovation of our industry partners.

President Obama has challenged us to develop capabilities to reach new destinations deeper in space and help our commercial partners take on the challenges of travel to low Earth orbit, and we’re doing just that.

SpaceX and our other industry partners are meeting that challenge, creating jobs and freeing up NASA to focus on missions to an asteroid and Mars.

The Dragon spacecraft I saw in Texas made history. But the real story is the people behind it who worked tirelessly to make this milestone a reality and even now are planning for the next mission and taking a hard look at what will be necessary for transport of crew. It started out as a Spacex team, working with our NASA team. But when the mission was complete, it was an American team, one that can achieve the impossible and help keep the United States the world leader in space exploration.

We’re making rapid progress toward renewing our nation’s capability to launch American astronauts to space from American soil using systems built by American companies. SpaceX and all of our commercial partners represent the best of American ingenuity. They’re going to open up space to more people and give our nation more capabilities to reach higher.

NASA’s commitment to American space transportation systems and the passion and dedication of our commercial partners are surely writing new pages of history. And it’s a living history because much more is to come.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, and SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk, view the historic Dragon capsule that returned to Earth on May 31 following the first successful mission by a private company to carry supplies to the International Space Station on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas.  Bolden and Musk also thanked the more than 150 SpaceX employees working at the McGregor facility for their role in the historic mission. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, and SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk, view the historic Dragon capsule that returned to Earth on May 31 following the first successful mission by a private company to carry supplies to the International Space Station on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at the SpaceX facility in McGregor, Texas. Bolden and Musk also thanked the more than 150 SpaceX employees working at the McGregor facility for their role in the historic mission. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk congratulated workers Thursday at the company’s Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters on the successful flight of the Dragon spacecraft in May — the first mission by a commercial company to resupply the International Space Station. The capsule behind them is the Dragon spacecraft that flew on a demonstration mission in December 2010, during which SpaceX became the first private company to recover a spacecraft after it orbited Earth. Photo credit: (NASA/Michael Cabbage)

Progress on the Space Launch System Engines

Today, I visited the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. PWR is working with NASA to help us realize our deep space exploration goals and send humans farther into our solar system than ever before. The work they are doing is a critical component to the success of the Space Launch System (SLS), an advanced heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new national capability for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. Their work on the RS-25 engines will power the SLS core stage. They are also developing the J-2X engine to power the upper stage of the SLS.

PWR is one of our innovative industry partners helping us write the next chapter of our future and meet the President’s challenge to visit an asteroid by the mid-2020s, send humans to Mars in the 2030s, and create jobs right here on Earth. All of this exciting work will lead us to important new discoveries and take us to destinations we’ve never visited.

At the same time I was touring the West Palm Beach campus, the PWR-built J-2X engine powerpack was being tested at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. This record-breaking test lasted 19-minute and 10-seconds, longer than any other J-2X test to date. This test is a step in preparing for future long duration space missions. I look forward to our continuing work with PWR and our other industry partners to create a bright future for exploration.

J-2X powerpack test, Friday, June 8. Photo credit: NASA/SSC

Celebrating Small Business Week

It’s National Small Business Week, and NASA salutes the innovative partners who have contributed so much to our mission.

The dedicated and mission-focused work of our small business partners has been essential to our missions, and I’m especially proud of NASA’s work with them. Due to the hard work of everyone in the agency, NASA exceeded our Small Business Goal for fiscal year 2011.

NASA was only 1 of 3 of the “BIG 7” federal agencies — the ones that together spend approximately 90% of small-business-eligible dollars — that exceeded its Small Business goals.

Approximately $2.5 billion in prime contracts were awarded directly to small businesses – and that’s up about $75 million from the previous year.

Our large Prime Contractors awarded approximately $2 billion in additional subcontracts to Small Businesses in fiscal year 2011.

When you add that all up, NASA awarded approximately $4.5 billion to Small Businesses in fiscal year 2011.

This clearly shows how committed we are to the small business community and how important they are to our success.

These partnerships fuel innovation and economic development. Our Small Business Innovation Research program (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, for instance, help facilitate innovative research and technology development among America’s most creative small businesses. The awards serve as seed funds for transformative research and technology projects that have the potential to mature new products and services of great benefit to NASA and the nation

Small business represents the best of the American spirit of innovation — the drive to solve problems and create capabilities that has led us to the moon, to great observatories, and to humans living and working in space, possibly indefinitely. Small businesses and entrepreneurs employ half of America’s workers, and create two out of every three new jobs. They’re an essential part of our economic engine, and they also are an essential part of President Obama’s vision for NASA, which drives us to focus again on the big picture of exploration and the crucial research and development that will be required for us to move beyond low Earth orbit.

For more information about NASA’s Small Business Programs, visit:



National Teacher Appreciation Week

In recognition of National Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to encourage everyone to thank a teacher today for the extraordinary daily sacrifices and contributions they make to prepare our young people for lives of purpose and meaning. Great teachers have played an especially big part in my own life. My mother, father, mother-in-law, and father-in-law were all teachers. Whenever I am asked what led me to pursue a career as a Marine, an astronaut, and to accept the President’s appointment as Administrator of NASA, I think back to my days growing up in the segregated schools of Columbia, South Carolina. In addition to the compassionate, loving guidance of my parents, I will never forget the lessons instilled in me by my teachers at Columbia’s Carver Elementary, W.A. Perry Middle School, and C.A. Johnson High School. They not only taught me the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, they taught me the hard facts of life and impressed upon me that no matter the odds, I should stay in school and follow my dreams. I took that advice to heart and it has given me the strength to break barriers and achieve goals that were unthinkable for a southern born African American 60 years ago.

One of the things I like most about my job at NASA is the opportunity I get to meet with the growing numbers of teachers and students who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math, especially as these subjects relate to the exploration of space. Through NASA’s educational outreach and partnerships with students and schools, we are committed to inspiring the next generation of scientists and explorers who will ensure America’s continued leadership in technology, innovation and space. It all begins in the classroom with a great teacher. Take a moment today to thank a teacher who made a difference in your life.