A Message to the Workforce on SLS and Orion

On March 14, 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sent this message to NASA employees and contractors:

Yesterday, I was asked by Congress about the schedule slip of the Space Launch System and plans to get NASA back on track. I mentioned that we are exploring the possibility of launching Orion and the European Service Module to low-Earth orbit on an existing heavy-lift rocket, then using a boost from another existing vehicle for Trans Lunar Injection. Our goal would be to test Orion in lunar orbit in 2020 and free up the first SLS for the launch of habitation or other hardware in 2021. This would get us back on schedule for a crewed lunar orbital mission in 2022 with the added bonus of a lunar destination for our astronauts.

We are studying this approach to accelerate our lunar efforts. The review will take no longer than two weeks and the results will be made available. Please know that NASA is committed to building and flying the SLS for the following reasons:

  1. Launching two heavy-lift rockets to get Orion to the Moon is not optimum or sustainable.
  2. Docking crewed vehicles in Earth orbit to get to the Moon adds complexity and risk that is undesirable.
  3. SLS mitigates these challenges and allows crew and payloads to get to the Moon, and eventually to Mars, safer and more efficiently than any temporary solution used to get back on track.

I believe in the strength of our workforce and our ability to utilize every tool available to achieve our objectives. Our goal is to get to the Moon sustainably and on to Mars. With your focused efforts, and unmatched talent, the possibility of achieving this objective is real.

Ad astra,

Jim Bridenstine

Funding a New Era of Exploration, Science and Discovery

As the international leader in space for 60 years, NASA has achieved inspiring feats of exploration, discovery, science and technology. We have changed the way the world flies, communicates, navigates, predicts weather, produces food and energy, and so much more. 

President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 NASA budget is one of the strongest on record for our storied agency. In keeping with Space Policy Directive-1, it provides for the foundation of a national exploration campaign that will use the experience of the NASA workforce, coupled with the agility and innovation of our commercial and international partners, to create an architecture that is open, sustainable and agile. This unified effort will inspire generations and change the course of history as we realize the next great scientific, economic and technical achievements in space. 

The 2020 NASA budget supports a sustainable campaign of exploration, returning humans to lunar orbit and then the surface of the Moon, and eventually embarking on human missions to Mars and other destinations.

In low-Earth orbit, our Commercial Crew program remains strong and will soon be delivering American astronauts, on American rockets, from American soil to the International Space Station for the first time since 2011. The successes of our commercial and international partnerships on the International Space Station are now serving as the foundation for moving deeper into space. 

For the first time in a decade, NASA has a budget for pursuing activities on the lunar surface. We have called on American companies to help design and develop human lunar landers and reusable systems for surface activities. The Space Launch System and Orion, critical components of our exploration architecture, will reach important milestones in construction and testing this year, and our new lunar command module, the Gateway, will see international and commercial partnerships solidified and construction begin. 

NASA administrator and two astronauts sit down for conversation

With this budget, we will initiate the first round trip mission to the Red Planet with a Mars sample return mission, and many of the technological advancements we achieve moving forward to the Moon will provide critical data and capabilities for future robotic and crewed Mars missions. NASA is positioned to provide American leadership across each of these key destinations, empowering industry and the international community to move off the Earth in a unified, collaborative way. 

As this Administration places a priority on human exploration, the whole of NASA benefits with robust budgets and synergy across our mission directorates. We will continue to pursue transformative aeronautics technology as we develop the next generation of aircraft and make air travel safer and more efficient. We will increase our understanding of our home planet and move out on ambitious programs to study the far reaches of our solar system and beyond.

Through the leadership and investment of this Administration, the world will participate together in civilization-changing discoveries and achievements.

The fiscal year 2020 NASA budget is strong. We will explore, discover and inspire, and all of humanity will benefit from our efforts.

Canada Commits to Joining NASA at the Moon

NASA is going back to the Moon to stay. It’s part of a bold directive from the President for the U.S. to lead a worldwide endeavor to open a new era of space exploration in a measured, sustainable way. This work is going to take collaboration with international partners, industry, and other stakeholders, and I’m delighted by Canada’s commitment today to join us in our work to go forward to the Moon and Mars.

We are excited that Canada will be a vital ally in this lunar journey as they become the first international partner for the Gateway lunar outpost with their 24 year commitment to deep space exploration and collaboration.

Canada’s friendship throughout the Space Age, and our longstanding partnership aboard the International Space Station have brought our two nations many benefits. From astronauts like David Saint-Jacques, currently aboard the station, to the invaluable Canadarm-2 that helps us perform many tasks on the station, everything from critical repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope to the construction of the International Space Station. Canada’s technical expertise and human resources have been an incredible component of our achievements on orbit and across the spectrum of our work. It was my great pleasure to visit Canada recently and see this innovation firsthand.

Going forward to the Moon, we’re making progress on a Gateway lunar outpost where astronauts can live and work in orbit and from which we can go to the lunar surface, again and again. We’ve begun the process for industry partners to deliver the first science instruments and tech demonstrations to the Moon’s surface, and we’re going to keep up that drumbeat until we’ve built human landers to get us back to the Moon by 2028.

Today, in addition to their incredible 24-year commitment, Canada is going to build a next generation Canadarm for the Gateway lunar outpost and support our work with industry to return to the surface of the moon, among other efforts. Canada’s technologic achievement as part of Gateway lunar outpost will be a part of creating the vital backbone for commercial and other international partnerships to get to the Moon and eventually to Mars. We are thrilled to work with Canada on the next generation of its robotics to help carry out incredible missions at the Gateway lunar outpost and to collaborate in our future on the lunar surface and deep space.

I thank Prime Minister Trudeau for his vote of confidence in the Canadian Space Agency and the many innovations that its president Sylvain Laporte and the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development are pursuing for the Canadian people and the world. Our work in space improves life for people everywhere on this planet. We look forward to our deepening partnership with Canada, and the support of the many other nations I am confident will join us and help strengthen our progress on the challenging goals we’ve set in space.

A Budget of Opportunities for NASA

NASA has once again received a strong bipartisan vote of confidence from President Donald J. Trump and Congress with the approval of our $21.5 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019, which is $763.9 million above the FY 2018 enacted level. It’s a win for our space program and the American people.

All of our directorates received healthy topline funding at or exceeding the original budget request, and our work to move forward to the Moon and beyond remains on firm footing. We’re looking forward to giving Congress more details about our plans, and are confident that the taxpayer investment to explore deep space will reap large and ongoing dividends.

This budgetary support ensures progress on our bold plans to once again launch American astronauts to the International Space Station in American-made rockets from American soil on commercial spacecraft. We’re also marking milestones as we build the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to take astronauts deeper into space than we have ever gone before. These big ideas demand long term commitment. And this budget fully supports them. The dedicated NASA workforce has been demonstrating that these things can be done, and is making progress and reaching milestones across the spectrum of our work.

This year we plan to contract for the first work on our Gateway, a new orbiting home for astronauts at the Moon, and the budget supports our work on this next step in our plans to extend human presence around the Moon. We are working to procure a commercially provided lunar lander with tech demonstrations and science payloads this year. The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contractors will drive the schedule for the first delivery to the lunar surface. Industry is also helping us refine and advance our plans for landers to return humans to the lunar surface by 2028.

Thanks to bipartisan support, NASA has funding to develop cutting edge technologies focused on deep space exploration such as new propulsion technologies, and extraordinary science that continues to impact the lives of everyone on the planet through our Earth observations that improve weather forecasting and disaster preparedness and improve agriculture. This budget is also helping us target big science goals such as the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Our aeronautics engineers are working on transformative technologies to advance hypersonic travel, reducing that familiar boom and making flights faster, as well as improving travel for the average American and making airplanes safer and flights more reliable. These are some the countless breakthroughs made by NASA scientists and engineers that are improving the quality of life for every day Americans – benefits whose value increases exponentially.

It’s clear that NASA at 60 continues to lead the world in creating the future, and we look forward to implementing this strong budget.

NASA is Everywhere – Talking to the Farm Community

One of my top priorities is to show all Americans how our work at NASA impacts their lives every day. Last week, I visited the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California. It was my privilege to share the great work the NASA Family is doing to help farmers improve our food supply and security.

The World Ag Expo draws more than 100,000 attendees from around the world.  People were excited to see how NASA science, aeronautics and technology are doing things that positively affect agriculture for the world.

I talked about NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory and how it’s enabling California to maximize the utility of every drop of water (including saving endangered species), while ensuring not a drop is wasted.  I highlighted how NASA is applying its Earth Science technologies to enable higher crop yields while using 20% less water and reducing nitrate leaching by 50%, and how this same technology mitigated a humanitarian disaster in Uganda, saving countless lives and millions of dollars in aid.  I also shared how NASA is helping to increase farm productivity by licensing our precision aircraft navigation technology for self-driving tractors and agricultural Unmanned Aerial Systems.

I hope you’ll help me spread the word about how our nation’s investment in NASA is having a tangible impact on lives all around the world.

Join Us In Going to the Moon … and Beyond

Humans are preparing to leave Earth’s orbit for the first time since 1972 — to the moon and eventually to Mars and beyond. That’s the mandate we’ve been given by President Donald Trump and a supportive bipartisan Congress. This is an exciting time to be leading America’s space program.

Today I’m proud to share a bold response to President Trump’s December 2017 call to action, one that will usher in the next chapter of human exploration. We are calling on American companies to help design and develop human lunar landers, reusable systems for astronauts to land on the moon.

As a lifelong NASA supporter, I am thrilled to be talking once again about landing humans on the moon. But to some, saying we’re returning to the moon implies we’ll be doing the same as we did 50 years ago. I want to be clear — that is not our vision. We are going to the moon with innovative new technologies and systems to explore more locations across the surface than we ever thought possible. This time, when we go to the moon, we will stay.

In the half-century since we last set foot on the lunar surface, our country, our agency — including its budget and workforce — and the technology and industrial landscape have all experienced tremendous change.

Indeed, more than two-thirds of Americans today were not even alive to witness the six successful Apollo moon landings, myself included. Extraordinary as they were, for many the lunar expeditions are facts from history books or stories told by older relatives. But unlike Apollo, this time we’re going to the moon to stay, and from there we’ll take the next giant leap in deep space exploration.

In my youth, I aspired to emulate America’s best aviators, astronauts like Alan Sheppard, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. My aspirations led me to become a pilot in the U.S. Navy. Now, as NASA’s administrator, I have the opportunity to support a new generation of America’s best pilots, operators and space explorers as we venture deeper into the universe than ever before. I am humbled to lead this journey. I’m excited about what it means for our future, and I believe it is essential to the security of our nation.

To do that we need a sustainable, human presence beyond Earth’s orbit. That starts with the Gateway — a lunar orbiting outpost designed to ensure the safe transit of astronauts to the lunar surface and back home again.

The Gateway will be the home base for the first reusable human lunar lander system. It’s a sustainable approach that creates more commercial opportunities, which is necessary for long-term human space exploration. Crews will use our powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to travel to the Gateway and return safely home.

We want to get started as quickly as possible, so we are inviting private industry and other potential partners to meet with us next week at NASA Headquarters to discuss human lunar landers.

We have already committed to working with nine American companies to send new science instruments and technology demonstrations to the surface on commercial cargo moon deliveries. Following these early Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) missions will be a larger, more reliable and reusable lander system built for astronauts. We plan to award our first CLPS delivery task order early this year and target the first commercial lunar surface landing by the end of 2020.

President Trump has charged us with a bolder exploration mission — not to leave footsteps and plant flags but to learn how to live away from Earth. We are responding to that call while also continuing to look for scientific discoveries in the solar system and developing SLS, Orion and the Gateway. Working with our commercial and international partners, we will establish a foundation for ongoing human exploration of our nearest celestial neighbor.

Following a buildup of capabilities, our goal is to land astronauts on the moon within the next decade. Billions of people around the world will watch history being made as astronauts explore more of the surface for longer periods of time than ever before, and help us prepare for missions to Mars and other destinations.

We’re actively seeking ideas from the best and brightest from American industry. I may have missed the first human landing on the moon, but I’m working to ensure that I see the next one, along with the rest of the world.

How Is a Rocket Different From a Train?

Like many Americans, I rode the subway to work this morning.  Some of my colleagues took a bus.  Whether subway or bus, our conveyance was provided by the government and it abounded with all manner of commercial advertising intended to target riders, drivers, walkers, and anyone else who happened to take a gander.  Who benefits from this activity?  Everyone.  The advertisers reach an audience they desire and public transportation can improve and expand services while reducing the price of a ticket.

Why does the NASA Administrator care?  We are going to the Moon and this time we will have international and commercial partners that do not follow the norms of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, or Shuttle.

NASA administrator and two astronauts sit down for conversation
Speaking with astronauts Chris Ferguson and Sunita “Suni” Williams for an informal Q&A session. Both Ferguson and Williams were selected to fly on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner for the Commercial Crew Program.

Right now, the United States of America is on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttles in 2011.  Unlike previous human launches, NASA will not own and operate the rockets.  Instead, NASA will be a customer of a robust, domestic, commercial industry currently providing access to low Earth orbit.

The industry itself is a NASA success story and an American victory.  Because of NASA’s investments in the American launch industry, space launch now represents a net export for our country.  In fact, from 2011-2017, the United States grew its market share of commercial launch from 0% to a 54% in the global economy.  In 2018, the United States could reach 65%.

NASA’s investments now enable it to be a customer of the very launch industry it helped create.  The intent is to be one customer of many customers in a flourishing launch industry with numerous providers all competing on cost and innovation.  Savings, innovation, and redundancy result.

With many diverse launch customers, costs are spread, scale is increased, and the result is lower prices and increased access to space for NASA and others.

When multiple commercial launch providers compete to earn business, they have a strong incentive to innovate on design, engineering, manufacturing, and operations to improve services and reduce costs.  We have seen this already with the advent of reusable rockets, improved engines, and so much more.

Unlike the early Space Shuttle era, if a failure occurs in the new paradigm, we will not lose access to space.  Instead, we have the redundancy of numerous, dissimilar rockets from various service providers.

Commercial satellite operators, other government agencies, international partners, and America’s trade balance all benefit from NASA’s commitment to commercialization.  Apart from launch, NASA is also committed to commercializing human activities in low Earth orbit and we are making great strides toward that end.

These commercial successes enable NASA to do more in low Earth orbit, while freeing NASA’s budget to take humans to the Moon with a sustainable architecture.

In the new environment where NASA is just one customer, the question becomes: who else is a customer on our missions?  The prospects could be astronomical.  Some patrons could be companies uninvolved in space activities, but desiring to brand their wares on a rocket flying to space.  It might not be bad to have another customer spreading costs and reducing the price to NASA.

It could even be possible for NASA to carry such a brand itself.  Maybe on the ISS?  So long as it doesn’t compete against a commercial provider.  This was the topic of a recent article by Christian Davenport of the Washington Post.  (Chris: I would prefer a frothy soda pop.)

If NASA were to carry the brand of another, the purpose would be singular:  to prove a branding market exists, not to compete against commercial providers.  Another revenue stream for commercial providers (launch or space stations) could reduce costs to NASA and loosen new capital markets for space companies.

NASA is currently partnering with industry to demonstrate many various markets including in-space manufacturing, pharmaceutical development, the 3-D printing of human organs, and so much more.  Is it possible for NASA to demonstrate a branding opportunity?

I don’t know, but I have asked the NASA Advisory Committee to investigate the realm of the possible.  If the answer is yes, I look forward to working with my former colleagues in the Congress to make it happen.

What I do know is that tomorrow, when I get on the subway, there will be lots of commercial companies trying to get my attention and I’m ok with it, because it offsets the cost of my ticket.