Venus is One Stop in Our Search for Life

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!

Space Resources are the Key to Safe and Sustainable Lunar Exploration

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.

The NASA Family Mourns the Loss of Dr. Mike Freilich

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.

45th Anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

The United States and Russia have a long and productive history of civil space cooperation dating back to a significant time in the history of our respective nations. On July 17, 1975, NASA astronauts Thomas Stafford, Vance Brand, and Deke Slayton broke free of Cold War tensions and Earth’s gravity to shake hands with Soviet cosmonauts Alexey Leonov and Valery Kubasov in a moment forever associated with peaceful cooperation in space. More than the first time two spacecraft from different nations docked together in orbit, this mission symbolized the potential of what could be achieved when nations work together to further mutual objectives.

Who could have foreseen that this “handshake in space” would lay the foundation for the tremendous accomplishments of the subsequent decades?  From Apollo-Soyuz to the Shuttle-Mir program in the 1990s – from decades-long cooperation on scientific exploration of the Moon and Mars to the International Space Station – together our nations have pushed the boundaries of technology and undertaken new challenges on behalf of humanity.

NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos are key contributors to one of the world’s greatest technological achievements, the International Space Station. Together with space agencies from Europe, Japan, and Canada, we built an unprecedented research laboratory in low-Earth orbit. For more than 20 years, U.S. and Russian crews have lived and worked shoulder-to-shoulder aboard the International Space Station. Greater still, more than a hundred countries have used the space station’s capabilities to conduct research and increase the scope of human knowledge.

Space exploration has become a global endeavor that yields advances in science, technology, innovation, and diplomacy for the benefit all of humanity. Nations around the world have navigated complex relationships to achieve unprecedented accomplishments together in space. Although it has not always been easy, the shared experiences of astronauts, cosmonauts, scientists, and engineers working toward a common goal have created indelible bonds and life-long friendships.

Our nation believes in exploration because it is an investment in the future – not just in space, but here on Earth. History has shown us that achievements in space inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. By exploring space, we increase humanity’s knowledge and understanding of our planet, our solar system, and our universe – all while inspiring the next generation to make their own giant leaps. Despite challenges here on Earth, we remain focused on future lunar exploration activities under the Artemis program, which will leverage the largest and most diverse international space exploration coalition in history. However, today we look to the past to celebrate the “handshake in space” that made our present and future plans for international cooperation possible.

Celebrating Our Artemis Naming Anniversary

This week marks one year since I named America’s 21st-century lunar exploration program Artemis after the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon. As we fast-tracked our goal of landing the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, and establishing a sustainable lunar presence later this decade, NASA and our partners have made incredible progress.

The Artemis program represents a new era where robots and humans will work together to push the boundaries of what’s possible in space exploration. Our return to the Moon includes taking all of America with us. We graduated a diverse new class of astronauts in January and just closed our latest call for future Artemis Generation explorers, receiving more than 12,000 astronaut candidate applications.

We are also prioritizing private industry innovation to enhance our ability to return to the Moon. We’re working with American companies on everything from delivering exciting new science investigations and technology experiments like the Volatiles Investigating Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the surface of the Moon with our Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative to developing the Gateway to designing modern human landing systems (HLS), one of which will take NASA astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024.

The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the world’s most powerful rocket, has made fantastic progress toward launch on the uncrewed Artemis I mission. Engineers integrated all four RS-25 engines into the rocket and completed assembly of the massive core stage. Currently, at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, we are preparing to conduct the critical Green Run test on SLS later this year. We have fully assembled and tested our Orion spacecraft for Artemis I too. We have successfully demonstrated the spacecraft’s launch abort system, performed extreme environment testing, and sent Orion to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for future integration with SLS and launch.

The foundation of the Gateway – including the power and propulsion element as well at the habitation and logistics outpost or HALO – are currently under development and will now be integrated on Earth for a single launch in 2023. We are also working with international partners at CSA, ESA, Roscosmos, and JAXA on other key elements for sustainable missions at the lunar outpost.

Working with industry on HLS is notable as this is the first time since the Apollo era that the agency has directly had funding for human lunar landers. This exciting final step in our acquisition process puts all the pieces in play needed to explore the Moon quickly and sustainably.

Inspiring future generations to help us confront the challenges of human space exploration is vital to the success of Artemis and all of NASA’s future. These are just a few highlights of our year – and I’m proud that NASA is on track for sustainable human exploration of the Moon for the first time in history because of the herculean effort of our team. The momentum we have amassed will help us overcome the logistical and technical changes ahead. I have full confidence that year two of the Artemis program will be just as productive as our first.

Ad astra,
Jim

 

Why our Launch of the NASA and SpaceX Demo-2 Mission to the International Space Station is Essential

On April 17, NASA and SpaceX announced that the upcoming flight test of the new Crew Dragon spacecraft with our astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley is now scheduled for lift off no earlier than 4:32 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 27. The launch of the Demo-2 mission will take place from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Have no doubt about it: I am looking forward to the launch. It will be historic and momentous. It also is critically important.

The Crew Dragon’s destination is the International Space Station. For almost 20 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. This unique laboratory in space has hosted more than 2,800 research investigations from scientists spanning 108 countries and areas, enabling us to prepare to land the first woman and next man on the Moon under the Artemis program and prepare for the human exploration of Mars. As a global endeavor, 239 people from 19 countries have visited the space station.

The station’s design requires humans living aboard to maintain it, operate it, and upgrade it; thus, International Space Station operations, including commercial resupply and commercial crew, are essential to the mission. A full crew is vital to safely maintain the station, both internally and externally, and continue the important research work that enables us to move human exploration farther into our solar system. To maximize our use of the station with the science we can conduct, we need four crew members operating in the U.S. segment of the station. When we have achieved that, we’ve been able to exceed 100 hours of research time in a week. Certification of the spaceflight systems of our Commercial Crew providers Boeing and SpaceX is critical to our ability to sustain a full crew and maximize our use of this singular national and global resource.

We currently are supporting the station with the bare minimum – only one NASA astronaut is aboard for Expedition 63, Chris Cassidy. As a result, we have extended the planned length of the Demo-2 mission from a standard test flight to ensure Behnken and Hurley can participate as Expedition 63 crew members to safely maintain and operate the station. Among the work that will await their arrival is upgrading the space station’s power system with new batteries due to arrive in May aboard the H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) cargo spacecraft launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Without the presence of Behnken and Hurley, we otherwise would likely defer such an operation until additional NASA crew members are available.

As the final flight test for SpaceX, the Demo-2 mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit. Certifying the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 for the operational rotation of space station crew members is critical to our continued and ongoing use of this invaluable asset that is important not only to the United States but also to our international partners across the globe.

NASA is committed to fulfilling its obligations to the station’s international partners as we work to return human spaceflight capability to American soil. Our commercial crew providers are in the final stages of development and testing of new human space transportation systems. To ensure the agency keeps its commitment for safe operations via a continuous U.S. presence aboard the International Space Station until these new capabilities are routinely available, NASA is in negotiations with the State Space Corporation Roscosmos to purchase one additional Soyuz seat for a launch this fall. NASA’s contract with Roscosmos will meet the recommendations of several advisory committees including the GAO, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel and the NASA Office of the Inspector General.

As the workforce personnel essential to supporting this launch and the Demo-2 mission and the International Space Station operations continue to work, I want to assure you we are taking the necessary steps to protect and care for the NASA and SpaceX teams. NASA is closely adhering to the CDC’s recommendations on infection control for the coronavirus. Behnken and Hurley will be quarantined for two weeks prior to their launch, and we are conducting our Demo-2 preview briefings today with all media participating remotely. The safety of our workforce is our top priority. We will not ask employees and contractors to perform work if we do not have the highest confidence that it is safe to do so.

We of course wish circumstances would allow us to open the gates at Kennedy Space Center to those who want to be there on launch day – nevertheless, we are working to enable the world to join us virtually for this incredible moment and essential mission.

Coping with Isolation: Tips from the Pros

A month ago, the NASA leadership team and I decided to move the entire agency to mandatory telework and take extra measures to protect NASA employees from the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Whether you are teleworking or working on-site to continue NASA’s vital missions, we understand these uncertain times have had a significant impact on everyone’s lives. As we all do our best to follow CDC guidelines and practice social distancing to help protect ourselves and others from COVID-19, I know that many are still learning to cope with social distancing.

Living in isolation is a concept with which NASA psychologists and astronauts are extremely familiar. For 60 years, NASA astronauts have been in space sometimes for months at a time, in small cohorts, with limited contact with their loved ones on Earth. Astronauts can provide excellent guidance for all of us as we navigate life during these times of social isolation.

Expert Tips

NASA astronauts have shared some specific advice about their training and the concept of expeditionary skills.

  • Anne McClain shared NASA’s five key expeditionary skills and examples of how to practice them in daily life.
  • Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan made videos from the International Space Station sharing their tips, like following a schedule and taking good care of yourself and your health.
  • Morgan says it’s important to think about how your actions affect the actions of others.
  • Meir talks about the importance of finding the silver linings.
  • Christina Koch, who spent 11 months in space, suggests thinking of how you can brighten someone else’s day.

Even former astronauts are sharing tips, like Peggy Whitson, who helped create the curriculum we use to train astronauts on social isolation, wanted to remind folks that even though we might be in a small space right now, we are part of something bigger.

Overcoming the Challenges of Isolation

NASA has been spotlighting resources from our Human Research Program’s Social Isolation in Space page. We have also been adding social isolation-themed content on NASA.gov/coronavirus.

Here are some of my favorite features so far:

Remember, we are in this together, so continue to check in with members of your team, and don’t hesitate to ask for what you need.

Ad Astra,
Jim

 

Apollo 13 Reminds Us of Hard Things Worth Doing

American history shows we are capable of ingenuity, devotion and great courage.

By Jim Lovell and Jim Bridenstine

As the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, Americans can take comfort in our history of facing difficult times with courage and emerging stronger on the other side of struggle. The Apollo 13 mission, launched 50 years ago Saturday, reminds us of Americans’ characteristic resilience and ingenuity.

On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was supposed to be the third mission to land men on the moon, after Apollo 11 and 12 the previous year. Thirteen was no less daring than its predecessors, but the launch wasn’t front-page news. By 1970, space travel was no longer a novelty and few Americans tuned in for the launch. At that time, no one could have imagined that the mission would become one of the most harrowing odysseys in American history.

When things went wrong on the Apollo 13 mission, it captured the world’s attention. News of the oxygen-tank explosion and crippled service module jolted the public awake to the drama unfolding 200,000 miles from Earth. Americans were reminded that space exploration is high-risk work demanding exceptional technical competence and bravery.

Fortunately, the flight engineers at Mission Control in Houston and the astronauts hurtling toward the moon understood the complex dangers space holds. The rescue mission wasn’t solely the product of improvisation, but of an innovative and cooperative workforce ready to take on any challenge.

For four vexing days, the Apollo 13 flight crew endured bitter conditions. The astronauts powered down all nonessential systems, which caused cabin temperatures to drop near freezing. Some food became inedible. Drinking water was rationed to ensure the cramped lunar module would operate longer than planned. The ground crew worked for 87 hours straight to come up with possible solutions. At one point, the crew flew through space with only the sun as a guide, a reminder of the original meaning of “astronaut,” which is derived from the Greek for “star” and “sailor.”

Benefiting from extensive planning and rigorous training and testing, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration overcame the obstacles of insufficient oxygen, water and power. Apollo 13 splashed down in the South Pacific, its lunar module ingeniously repurposed as a lifeboat. No one familiar with the perils of the mission can look at duct tape, plastic bags and cardboard the same ever again.

On this golden anniversary of NASA’s most successful failure, the nation honors the physical and intellectual courage of the astronauts, as well as the diligence and ingenuity of the ground crew that kept Americans alive aboard a crippled spacecraft hundreds of thousands of miles from home. Apollo 13 revealed more than technical talent. It reminded the world of America’s frontier spirit. In the face of seemingly impossible odds, Americans didn’t let fear paralyze us. Instead we joined together, working calmly and efficiently to find a solution.

America has an ambitious future in space exploration. NASA’s Artemis program is working to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024, which in turn will help prepare for humanity’s next giant leap to Mars. Artemis will require state-of-the-art technology and push the boundaries of human knowledge like never before. It will also demand the same courage, ingenuity and devotion Americans showed in Apollo 13. We, as a nation, must continue to do hard things. That’s how we soar into the heavens and progress as a civilization.

Bring Your Ideas to NASA@WORK

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard from employees across the agency who want to help the nation through this unprecedented time. These comments exemplify the prevailing, can-do spirit of NASA people and our willingness to take on any challenge.

As the nation comes together to confront this crisis, we must look at every opportunity for NASA to lend a hand and increase our contribution to America’s response. We have unique capabilities—several of which are already being used to help combat COVID-19. We also have talented people and decades of experience finding solutions to complex problems.

NASA will continue to support the Administration and local response efforts by our field centers. Starting today, we’re also asking the NASA workforce for ideas of how the agency can leverage its expertise and capabilities to provide additional support. Using our internal crowdsourcing platform NASA@WORK, you can submit ideas for solutions relevant to COVID-19. Multiple ideas may be selected for follow-up and potential action.

For this initial call, NASA leadership, working with the White House and other government agencies, determined three focus areas around personal protective equipment, ventilation devices, and monitoring and forecasting the spread and impacts of the virus. Other creative ideas are welcome, and as COVID-19 evolves, we may introduce additional topic areas to address the needs of the country.

You can find more information about the NASA@WORK opportunity below and online. I encourage anyone with an idea to submit it within the next two weeks, as it could propel meaningful contributions to the COVID-19 response.

Thank you all in advance for bringing your ingenuity to the table and helping with something so important. And thank you to the Space Technology Mission Directorate for spearheading this effort on behalf of the agency and for the benefit of the nation.

Ad astra,
Jim

 

March 24 Update on NASA Response to Coronavirus

Dear NASA family,

Our nation is fighting an invisible enemy – coronavirus (COVID-19). NASA is implementing important measures across the agency to do our part to help slow the transmission of COVID-19 and protect our communities. To continue NASA’s inspiring mission, the safety of our workforce is our top priority. We will not ask employees and contractors to perform work if we do not have the highest confidence that it is safe to do so. 

Mission-Essential Work

Last week, NASA leadership completed the first agencywide assessment of what work can be performed remotely by employees at home, mission-essential work that must be performed on-site, and on-site work that will be paused. You can find the release here.

We are working closely with center directors, contractors and our partners to analyze this evolving situation to ensure we are taking the right steps for our workforce.

What We Can Do

Each of us has the important responsibility of taking extra precautions to protect ourselves and our team.  If you are performing on-site work and feel sick, do not go to work. Contact your supervisor immediately and schedule an appointment with your primary care provider.

For more than six decades, NASA has used its expertise to take on challenges that have benefited people worldwide in unexpected ways. Leadership across the agency is looking at how we can use our unmatched expertise and capabilities to help in the national response to COVID-19. We are coordinating an agencywide effort to see how NASA can help and we will be providing more details in the days to come.   

Changes at Centers

Following local, state and federal guidance, and taking into account local conditions, we have moved the following centers and facilities to Stage 4 of NASA’s Response Framework:

  • Glenn Research Center in Ohio
  • Plum Brook Station in Ohio
  • Armstrong Flight Research Center in California
  • Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia
  • Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York
  • Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, who also reported its first case of an employee testing positive for COVID-19.

Two facilities will remain at Stage 4 after reporting new coronavirus cases, Michoud Assembly Facility reporting its first employee testing positive for COVID-19, and Stennis Space Center recording a second case of a member of the NASA family with the virus. Kennedy Space Center will remain at stage 3, one member of the workforce that has tested positive but given our mandatory telework policy the individual had not been on site for over a week prior to symptoms. For an updated list of the status of each of NASA’s facilities visit NASA People.

At Stage 4, mandatory telework is in effect for all personnel, with the exception of limited personnel required for mission-essential work and to maintain the safety and security of the center.

NASA leadership continues to monitor developments around the nation and follow the guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local and state health officials in order to keep the NASA community safe. If at any point, as was demonstrated many times last week, we do not feel comfortable with the work conditions, we will not hesitate to temporarily suspend work. Mission-essential work is routinely reevaluated to determine if there is not another way to safely complete the work.

Ask the Administrator

This week, I will be joined by Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk and Chief Health and Medical Officer Dr. J.D. Polk to answer your questions on NASA’s response to COVID-19 during a recorded Q&A. We’ve collected your submitted questions for the “March 25 Ask the Administrator” event, and you’ll get an email Wednesday, March 25, letting you know when the video is available and where to watch it.

Your resilience and determination to continue the mission during this unprecedented challenge is worthy of our nation’s gratitude. I am grateful to be a part of this tremendous team as we navigate this difficult time together.

Ad astra,
Jim

  

Helpful Links:

  • NASA Guidance: Please continue to check NASA People for resources and updates on the agency’s response to COVID-19.
  • COVID-19: For more information about COVID-19 please visit the CDC website.
  • Symptom tracker: A guide to help make decisions and seek appropriate care via CDC’s COVID-19 self-checker
  • Rumor Control: To prevent incorrect information from spreading, FEMA has put up a website to help dispel myths about COVID-19.
  • 15 Days to Stop the Spread: The White House has provided guidance to Americans on how we can slow the spread of the disease during this critical period.