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.

Space Exploration Transcends All Terrestrial Borders

International collaboration in space exploration serves as an unparalleled and inspiring example of what humanity can do when it comes together to achieve a common goal for the common good. Our partnerships with the Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Roscosmos aboard the International Space Station have led to an unprecedented continuous human presence in space for nearly 20 years. None of us could have done that alone.

Space exploration unites the world in a way no other activity can. With more and more emerging space agencies – there’s now 72 – this unity is a necessity in exploration as we learn from each other’s successes as well as failures. A prime example is this week’s United Arab Emirates ‘Hope’ Mars mission. Developed by the UAE, which is relatively young in its space program, the probe will be launched from Japan, bringing these nations together in exploration. This launch is the latest in a long-line of Mars attempts only a few nations can claim, and only two weeks ahead of our next Mars mission, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

Like Hope, NASA’s Artemis program is bringing nations closer together. We have our sights set on sustainable human exploration of the Moon, but we are not doing it alone. We are pleased and humbled by the overwhelming support Artemis has received from the international community. Our lunar program has fostered international cooperation through shared values that will benefit people around the globe as we prepare to send humans forward to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.

Just last week I executed the Joint Exploration Declaration of Intent with our friends in Japan, which describes their planned participation in Artemis. Last month, Canada announced its contract for the development of a robotic arm for the Gateway – a lunar outpost built by commercial and international partners. The Gateway will orbit the Moon and support missions to the lunar surface and beyond. ESA has received unprecedented levels of funding for its participation in the Artemis program, and we’re grateful for the strong support of these 22 European nations. They are contributing the European Service Module for our Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions and the ESA Council recently took action allowing for progress to continue on Europe’s contribution of the International Habitat and ESPRIT refueling module for the Gateway.

We are excited to continue working with our traditional international partners and we are equally eager to engage with as many emerging space agencies as possible. For example, the Australian Space Agency is already dedicating $150 million for its researchers and businesses to support the Artemis program.

The scope and nature of the Artemis program will build on our partnerships in low-Earth orbit and result in NASA leading the largest and most diverse international space effort in history to the Moon. I’m incredibly proud to work with innovative partners from the private sector and around the world to transform the dream of sustainable lunar exploration into reality.

Gateway concept
NASA’s concept image of the Gateway in orbit around the Moon with international contributions.

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

 

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.