Jim Bridenstine resigned as NASA administrator on Jan. 20, 2021. This blog will be left online as a historical record, but will no longer be updated. The information it contains was accurate at the time of publication.
“What does NASA do for me?” Countless people have asked me that question as the NASA administrator. It’s one I can answer easily – and one of the most important reasons is NASA spinoffs.
Finding homes for NASA technology beyond the space agency is part of our culture – it’s in our DNA. We have been transferring our technology to commercial companies since the very beginning of the agency. We also partner with industry, lending our expertise to help bring their innovations to market. These spinoffs result in products that improve and even save lives every day.
I feel confident saying you’re not too far from a NASA spinoff right now. Are you reading this on your phone? NASA helped develop the tiny, highly efficient video cameras in your device. It’s probably our single most ubiquitous spinoff technology, enabling high-definition video on the go and social media as we know it. But that’s not the only spinoff around you, or even in your phone. Every time your GPS app finds your location before offering you directions, it’s using software first developed at NASA.
We have countless spinoff examples of how investments in NASA pay dividends in the economy. The Apollo missions were expensive and challenging, but we’re still reaping the rewards here on Earth. Our new Spinoff 2021 publication tells more than 40 new stories of how NASA technologies have found uses beyond space. Each page represents at least one product for sale today. You – the public – benefit from not only those products but also the new ideas, companies, and jobs that come with them.
Spinoff 2021 highlights NASA innovations benefiting everyone from students to airplane passengers to assembly line workers and more. Here are a few highlights that stood out to me:
- In this age of remote learning, a guided tour of Mars is more appealing than ever. We collaborated with Google to create a virtual reality tool, based on decades of Mars research, that allows students to follow in the path of the Curiosity rover, right from their computer, tablet, or smartphone.
- The challenge of managing the organized chaos of airport ground operations, from fuel trucks to luggage handlers, has only grown as air travel has increased exponentially over the last few decades. Airport communication systems, however, were stuck in the past. We’re helping launch these systems into the digital age to help keep passengers safer and their flights on time.
- In space, robots can’t rely on gravity to keep their footing. We turned back to Earth for inspiration and developed robot-gripping technology based on how geckos scale ceilings. Now that technology grabs circuit boards, solar panels, and other smooth parts on an assembly line.
- PCBs (or polychlorinated biphenyls) were commonplace before the world realized they were toxic. But even decades after they were banned, the pollutant has proven hard to eliminate from the ecosystem – and the food chain. A NASA inventor drew inspiration from a drinking straw, inventing a tool that leaches PCBs from groundwater and the soil around it.
These spinoff success stories are only one piece of an ongoing process led by our Space Technology Mission Directorate. Our technology portfolio today has more than a thousand exciting innovations ready for enterprising companies or entrepreneurs to license and develop them into commercial products. As we gear up for 21st century exploration missions – NASA’s Artemis program, a sustainable presence on the Moon, and eventually landing humans on Mars – NASA will invent new technologies. They will become our spinoffs of tomorrow, leading to more wide-ranging benefits for everyone on Earth.
Today we announced the first in a series of upcoming commitments from our international partners to support our Artemis plans. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed an agreement committing our space agencies to building the Gateway together. As our outpost in lunar orbit, the Gateway is critical for sustainable exploration of the Moon as well as testing systems and operations for future missions to Mars.
With this Memorandum of Understanding, ESA will provide an additional habitation element, enhanced lunar communications, and a refueling capability to the Gateway later this decade. They will also provide two more European service modules for future Orion spacecraft.
We are honored by this agreement with ESA and, again, it is one of several to come with our international partners. Exploration requires more than hardware though – and that is why this commitment with ESA includes opportunities for European astronauts to fly with NASA astronauts on future Artemis missions to the Gateway.
In regard to the NASA astronauts who may travel to the Moon on Artemis missions, we plan to use a similar approach to what we did with the Commercial Crew Program. NASA will announce an initial group of astronauts eligible for early lunar missions known as the Artemis Team. Closer to launch, usually within about two years, we will announce specific flight assignments for crew as well as their backups. We will add more members to this team throughout the Artemis program.
While additional details about crew assignments are expected later, we will launch four crew members on Artemis III for a multi-week mission. This team will include the first American woman and next American man to walk on the Moon in 2024.
After the Space Launch System rocket launches from Earth, it will deploy the Orion spacecraft, and the European service module, attached to Orion, will help provide the propulsion necessary to put the spacecraft on a path to the Moon. Crew will travel for several days to lunar orbit. From there, two crew members will travel to the lunar surface aboard a new human landing system while two astronauts will remain in orbit. Following a historic week on the lunar surface, those two astronauts will return to orbit and transfer back to the Orion spacecraft with their crewmates. That group of four astronauts will all return safely home aboard Orion, splashing down in the Pacific ocean. The first elements of Gateway, produced by commercial partners, will be in orbit around the Moon and available to support this mission if necessary.
As our nation moves forward to the Moon with our 21st century lunar exploration program, we’re excited to do so with our international partners. NASA is working hard to ensure the Artemis program is the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration coalition in history. Seven other nations have already committed to this coalition with the United States through the Artemis Accords, and we look forward to more joining us soon.
We look forward to continuing discussions with our international partners on opportunities for their astronauts to explore more of the Moon than ever before with us. In short order, we will move human spaceflight from beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon for the first time since 1972. From there, we will prepare for humanity’s next giant leap – human exploration of Mars.
I am in agreement with Director General Rogozin and Roscosmos that shared standards are a vital part of future space exploration. Specifically, one of the core principles of the Artemis Accords is interoperability. Via the Accords, the U.S. is proactively asking any partner nations that join us on the Artemis journey to focus on shared standards that will not just include docking, but data formatting and transfer, communications, navigation, environmental control and life support, and numerous other important systems and operations. The U.S. and its commercial and international partners look forward to working with the international community to ensure that interoperability and shared standards are the cornerstone of future space architectures, including the Gateway and other aspects of the Artemis program.
Additionally, we also believe in continuing the multilateral approach that has been successfully established by the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS has not only advanced technology, but helped us to learn how to effectively work together with a variety of cultures and countries. This is why we’re using the Intergovernmental Agreement (the IGA) which is the ISS’s legal framework for Gateway. The Gateway partners are agreeing to leverage the IGA for the outpost’s operations through a series of MOUs with participating nations. In order to build as broad a coalition as possible, we shared a draft of the proposed Gateway MOU with Roscosmos in November of last year, and we remain open and interested in receiving their feedback on the document and our general approach of utilizing the ISS’s IGA for the Gateway.
In fact, life on Earth is continuously improving because of the nation’s investment to fund NASA’s missions, programs, and projects here on Earth, in the skies, and among the stars. It isn’t just technological advancements, increased knowledge, and quenching the thirst for discovery that result from these programs. NASA directly stimulates economic growth and development throughout our nation. To better understand this impact, NASA commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the Agency’s economic impact both to the nation as a whole and to individual states for fiscal year 2019 (FY19).
With a budget of $21.5 billion, only 0.5% of the overall federal budget, NASA generated an economic output of more than $64 billion in FY19, tripling the nation’s initial investment. Truly a national endeavor, every single state benefited economically from NASA activity. Forty-three states saw an economic impact of $10 million or greater, while eight of those states received an impact of $1 billion or more.
This report, conducted by the Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement at the University of Illinois at Chicago, recognized as one of the foremost organizations conducting economic impact studies, found that NASA supports more than 312,000 jobs nation-wide. These jobs come in the form of not only civil servants and government contractors, but also the doctors, schoolteachers, dining and retail workers, and others necessary to support the nation’s mission.
NASA employees, as well as the people in the aforementioned jobs, spend money in their communities producing significant tax revenues. In total, NASA generates an estimated $7 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. This tax revenue is equal to nearly a third of NASA’s FY19 budget allotment.
NASA’s Artemis program aims to achieve a continued presence at the moon where we will learn what we need to know to send humans on to explore Mars.
In FY19, NASA’s Moon-to-Mars programs generated $14 billion in economic output, supported nearly 70,000 jobs, and produced $1.5 billion in tax revenue. And thanks to the historic support of President Donald Trump, NASA’s economic impact will grow even more as we prepare to land humans on the Moon in 2024.
Access to the heavens is something humans have longed for as long as they have looked to the night sky in awe. Currently, the global space economy is exploding with growth and has potential for significant increases. Governments in 81 nations spend more than $85 billion and employ more than one million people in space-related industries. The emerging space economy is valued at over $400 billion and is well on its way to becoming a trillion-dollar industry in the coming years.
NASA takes considerable pride in our efforts to improve the quality of life on Earth. As such, we develop hundreds of innovative technologies every year that are then transferred to the private sector. NASA technology is everywhere and touches American lives well beyond just dollars and jobs.
NASA is making a difference. The American taxpayer’s investment in NASA missions and programs is paying dividends to our nation as well as the world. As NASA continues to make strides in achieving our goals of exploring the heavens, we will also continue our commitment to be good stewards of the nation’s investment and do our part to keep the economy thriving.
Today, we are on the cusp of amazing discoveries that could tell us more about the possibility of life off the Earth. In fact, astrobiology, which includes the search for life elsewhere, is one of our key priorities at NASA.
The Spirit and Opportunity rovers enabled NASA to discover that Mars had a massive ocean, a thick atmosphere, and a magnetosphere that protected it from the radiation of deep space. In other words, at one time Mars was potentially habitable! The Phoenix lander discovered pure water ice on Mars, and the Curiosity rover found complex organic compounds and methane cycles on Mars. The probability of finding life or past life on another world keeps going up.
Now, the Perseverance rover is en route to Mars on NASA’s first dedicated astrobiology mission. Samples returned from this trip could conclusively determine whether microbial life lived on Mars. Upcoming missions like Dragonfly to Saturn’s moon Titan and the Europa Clipper to study Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa will once again assess the possibilities of life on other worlds. Data from Saturn’s moon Enceladus and other bodies point to many exciting discoveries yet to be made.
NASA’s deep space astrophysics capabilities are also being used for astrobiology. Our telescopes not only peer into other galaxies and discover exoplanets around other stars, they also assess exoplanet atmospheres to find the elements necessary to host life and even look for atmospheric biosignatures. An intriguing discovery recently released by the Royal Astronomical Society about the atmosphere of Venus could also point toward biosignatures.
As we seek to expand our knowledge of our own solar system, four spectacular missions are being considered for up to two Discovery missions to be selected next year. Among them are an astrobiology mission to Neptune’s moon Triton and a geological mission to the most volcanically active planetary body in the solar system, Jupiter’s moon Io. The other two missions being considered have proposed missions to Venus. One is focused on understanding its atmosphere and the other is focused on understanding Venus’ geological history. There is no doubt that NASA’s Science Mission Directorate will have a tough time evaluating and selecting from among these very compelling targets and missions, but I know the process will be fair and unbiased. The U.S. is also partnering with Europe on another proposed Venus mission called EnVision that could be selected to go to our next-door neighbor.
As is normal in science, the more we learn, the more questions we have. This is the virtuous cycle of discovery, including the discovery of potential biosignatures on other worlds. We at NASA are incredibly fortunate to have so many opportunities to pursue and such talented scientists, engineers, and partners capable of pursuing them. Every day gets more exciting for all of us and I can’t wait for the next discovery!
As we at NASA are working aggressively to meet our near-term goal of landing the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, our Artemis program also is focused on taking steps that will establish a safe and sustainable lunar exploration architecture.
Moreover, leveraging commercial involvement as part of Artemis will enhance our ability to safely return to the Moon in a sustainable, innovative, and affordable fashion. The President’s Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources clarifies Congress’ intent clarifies that it is the policy of the United States to encourage international support for the public and private recovery and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law. We know a supportive policy regarding the recovery and use of space resources is important to the creation of a stable and predictable investment environment for commercial space innovators and entrepreneurs.
Today, we’re taking a critical step forward by releasing a solicitation for commercial companies to provide proposals for the collection of space resources. When considering such proposals, we will require that all actions be taken in a transparent fashion, in full compliance with the Registration Convention, Article II and other provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, and all of our other international obligations. We are putting our policies into practice to fuel a new era of exploration and discovery that will benefit all of humanity.
The requirements we’ve outlined are that a company will collect a small amount of Moon “dirt” or rocks from any location on the lunar surface, provide imagery to NASA of the collection and the collected material, along with data that identifies the collection location, and conduct an “in-place” transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith or rocks to NASA. After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for our use.
NASA’s goal is that the retrieval and transfer of ownership will be completed before 2024. The solicitation creates a full and open competition, not limited to U.S. companies, and the agency may make one or more awards. NASA’s payment is exclusively for the lunar regolith, with any awardee receiving 10 percent at award, 10 percent upon launch, and the remaining 80 percent upon successful completion. The agency will determine retrieval methods for the transferred lunar regolith at a later date.
Next-generation lunar science and technology is a main objective for returning to the Moon and preparing for Mars. Over the next decade, the Artemis program will lay the foundation for a sustained long-term presence on the lunar surface and use the Moon to validate deep space systems and operations before embarking on the much farther voyage to Mars. The ability to conduct in-situ resources utilization (ISRU) will be incredibly important on Mars, which is why we must proceed with alacrity to develop techniques and gain experience with ISRU on the surface of the Moon.
The scientific discoveries gained through robust, sustainable, and safe lunar exploration will benefit all of humanity. By continuing to publicly release our data, NASA will ensure the whole world joins us and benefits from the Artemis journey.
Our planet has lost a true champion with the passing of Mike Freilich. NASA sends our condolences to his loved ones, and the entire NASA Family shares their loss.
As the head of NASA Earth Science, Mike was known for his diligence and an unwavering commitment to accuracy and making sure the science was strong. His oversize passion for all things related to expanding knowledge about the complex systems of our planet saw an incredible diversity of missions launch on his watch. Mike never avoided the tough decisions, but his deep expertise and innate love of science helped our agency to innovate and expand the ways it observes our home planet.
Mike’s excellence as a scientist is well known. His dedication to oceanography and helping train the next generation of scientific leaders was inspiring. He won numerous awards throughout his career, and it was NASA’s honor to join our colleagues at the European Space Agency, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to name the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich mission for him. This satellite will gather critical information about the oceans for which Mike had such an abiding passion.
Mike wept openly as he signed the launch vehicle for IceSat2, his last launch as Earth Science director. It was a testament to how much being able to work on missions that helped us to better understand our planet and improve life across it meant to him.
At NASA, we pledge to carry on that work and build on the legacy that Mike has left us. His presence will continue to be felt across the agency and our planet, in space and in our hearts.
During an event today with the Space Foundation, I was excited to be part of a discussion on how our upcoming Mars 2020 Perseverance launch and the Artemis program are critical to opening the door to smarter, safer human missions to Mars.
Throughout our history, people have always explored the world around them to discover the unknown, find new resources, expand their presence, and improve their existence. This primordial urge continues within us today, driving humanity to overcome what we once thought impossible. It is pushing our limits beyond terrestrial borders and farther into the universe.
We have a big agenda to return to the Moon by 2024, and to do so sustainably by the end of the decade. Our sights remain set on sending humans to Mars and the Artemis program will give us the experience living on another world closer to home. Artemis missions on and around the Moon will help us make our next giant leap while robots like the Perseverance rover pave the way for our first human explorers to Mars.
Among the investigations onboard, the rover will carry two that will support future crewed missions to the fourth planet – one to produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere and another to aid in development of weather forecasting. The mission will also use new terrain navigation and landing technologies as well as study how a potential spacesuit material is affected by the Martian environment.
It’s crazy to think this, but we know more about Mars today than we did about the Moon when we sent the first humans to the lunar surface. The Perseverance rover as well as future Mars Sample Return and Mars Ice Mapper missions will teach us even more about the Martian environment and water resources before we send astronauts on the most challenging human exploration mission in our history.
An investment in the Moon is an investment in Mars
We’re going to the Moon with the purpose of getting to Mars – I absolutely believe this is the right approach technically and politically. What do I mean by that? It means we’re prioritizing investments today in lunar exploration that support successful human exploration of Mars in the future. Both destinations are hard, but possible with our current approach.
Our plans for the Artemis program will ultimately lead us to a better understanding of the deep space environment, allow us to design and test common Moon-Mars systems and mature specific technologies needed for the Mars journey. The first woman and next man will land on the Moon by 2024 and help us take our next steps toward greater exploration than ever before.
Just as we’re doing at the Moon, we will build up our capabilities at Mars over time, and we anticipate sending humans to the fourth planet as early as the 2030s. What seems like science fiction – getting a crew to Mars, landing them on the surface to explore and conduct experiments, and bringing them safely home – is on the horizon!
We’re planning for our first round-trip voyage to Mars to take about two years using advanced propulsion systems to enable a faster journey while limiting radiation exposure for our astronauts and other mission risks. Our preferred launch window will give the crew about 30 days on the Martian surface, which is ample time to search for life on another world. Other options could require crew to be on the surface for more than a year and away from Earth for as long as three years, but it will be a long time before we have the funding, technology, supplies, and capabilities to sustain such a mission.
In our new video below, we highlight just six of the technologies NASA is developing right now to push human missions farther in the solar system: advanced propulsion, inflatable entry and landing systems, high-tech spacesuits, a Martian home and lab on wheels, an uninterrupted power source, and laser communications.
While we’re continuing to refine our overall Mars architecture, I encourage you to read our new document, How Investing in the Moon is Preparing NASA for Mars.
Finally, don’t forget to tune in to NASA TV for our upcoming launch! Perseverance is heading for the Red Planet at 7:50 a.m. EDT, July 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Go Perseverance! Go Artemis!
On behalf of NASA, I congratulate our friends in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the launch of the Emirates Mars Mission, Hope. Today marks the culmination of tremendous hard work, focus, and dedication, as well as the beginning of the UAE’s journey to Mars with the ultimate goal of human habitation of the Red Planet. This mission is aptly named since it’s a symbol of inspiration for the UAE, the region, and the world.
We are in awe of the speed and commitment the UAE, through both the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center and the UAE Space Agency, has demonstrated in developing its first interplanetary spacecraft. Moreover, your dedication to advancing the world’s understanding of Mars by publicly sharing the science and data produced by Hope represents the values of unity, peace, and transparency, that will be so important as humanity moves ever farther into the solar system.
We are pleased American universities, including the University of Colorado at Boulder, Arizona State University, and the University of California, Berkeley, were able to assist you in this mission. We are also happy to facilitate NASA’s Deep Space Network to communicate with Hope. All of us at NASA are excited about the prospects for ambitious future partnerships with the UAE in low-Earth orbit and, via the Artemis program, on and around the Moon with the ultimate destination of Mars.
Even during these challenging times, humanity’s spirit of exploration and curiosity remain undeterred. We’re eager for our own Mars mission, Perseverance, to join Hope on its journey to explore Mars. Much like the UAE and the United States of America here on Earth, our two spacecraft will travel to Mars together to benefit the entire world.
Congratulations again, and Go Hope!