Artemis is Our Future

Last week, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing. We weren’t just looking backward though.

As part of our current Artemis lunar exploration program, we published a draft solicitation asking U.S. industry to think about how they would build an integrated human landing system that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon in the next five years.

If you’re wondering why NASA doesn’t simply dust off the Apollo lander designs to put humans on the Moon by 2024, you’re not alone. Yes, we had a highly successful Moon program in the past in which we won the space race, but we have new goals for Artemis, which is a stepping stone for Mars.

When we go forward to the Moon, we want the ability to land anywhere on the lunar surface anytime we want. To do so, we need a modern landing system that we can reuse, refuel and refurbish in space.  That system will be staged at the Gateway in lunar orbit – our command module to support robotic and human exploration on the lunar surface, and missions farther into the solar system.

Illustration of a human landing system on the lunar surface.
Illustration of a human landing system on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

We will accelerate our return to the Moon by 2024 and establish a foundation for a sustainable human presence by 2028. NASA is leading that charge with meaningful contributions from our commercial and international partners. We are building spacecraft to internationally agreed standards so that when our partners begin sending their own lunar systems, we’ll be ready for them. Apollo didn’t allow for that, but with Artemis, it is a core principle. Together, we will use the Moon to validate human safety protocols, technologies, and operational procedures before embarking on the ultimate human destination: Mars.

Exploring More of the Moon

Apollo’s primary goal was to win the space race: to be the first on the Moon; to plant flags and footprints. All six landings occurred at the equatorial region because the command modules were designed to operate in that specific orbit, for one mission. Those six landing sites span about 6% of the Moon’s surface.

This time, when we go to the Moon, the Gateway will make it possible to access any region of the lunar surface, from pole to pole, from near side to far side. We will learn to use the Moon’s resources to reduce the amount of supplies we need to send from Earth, and build systems to common standards, so that contributors across the globe may seamlessly join our endeavor.

Higher safety standards

Astronaut safety has always been a top priority for NASA, but we took many unknown risks with early lunar exploration. We know much more about the Moon now than we did in the 1960s, so we can address these risks technically and operationally.

For instance, during Apollo, our greatest concern with soil was that the lander would sink into the soil, or that crew would step onto the surface and sink down to their shoulders like falling in a snowdrift. We now understand our greater risk from dust is actually how inhaling the small sharp, glass-like dust particles can lodge in the lungs creating acute and long-term risks to astronaut health. Through work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – which opened at the very end of Apollo in 1971 – we now have standards for particulate size, and how long we can breathe specific compositions.

In some cases, NASA established its own safety standards, but many of those standards, such as atmospheric concentrations of carbo dioxide, are now debated with other experts. Apollo systems were designed to maintain breathing air with up to 1% carbon dioxide, but today’s human health experts recommend 0.25%.

Lighter, smarter technologies

As a Navy pilot, I would cherish the opportunity fly a vintage plane, but I certainly would not choose it over today’s newer aircraft for a flight around the world. That said, in 2005, a team of NASA engineers met with some of the Grumman veterans who built the Apollo landers just to see what they would do with current technologies. The engineers conducted a study and re-designed the Apollo landers. Based on technologies that are now 15 years old, they brought the overall spacecraft mass down by about a ton, mostly because of lighter avionics and batteries.

Today, we have even lighter, and certainly smarter, technologies, so imagine what we will do with a 21st century refresh.

Investing in NASA

We now have a robust industrial base of spacecraft suppliers. New partnerships and other affordability options are considered at every level of Artemis technical and programmatic planning. In the 1960s, NASA essentially had to start from scratch, developing the Saturn rocket, and sending astronauts into space incrementally through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs – at a cost of 5% of the nation’s discretionary budget. At the moment, we’re waiting for Congress to approve the President’s budget amendment, which includes the additional funds we need as a down payment on this bold goal. And like Apollo, we expect the national investment in NASA to pay dividends on our economy and technologies for generations to come.

For future exploration, we will entrust only the most modern systems to keep our astronauts safe. We will incorporate state-of-the-art technologies – some born of Apollo and matured over the past 50 years.

We are grateful for the Apollo generation that came before us – for the bold vision, for the unforeseen technological boom that led to miniaturized technologies, and for the inspiration that gave birth to a new era of dreamers, tinkerers, scientists, artists, and engineers.

We’re ready to explore the Moon again – this time with advanced technologies, modern spacecraft, and more access than ever before. We will use what we learn at the Moon, and ultimately take our next giant leap, sending astronauts to Mars.

We are the Artemis generation, and we’re going to the Moon and beyond. Are you ready?

Apollo 11 and NASA’s Plans Today for the Moon and Mars

As we look back on one of the signature accomplishments of humanity, NASA’s Apollo 11 Moon landing 50 years ago this Saturday, July 20, our view in hindsight has not dimmed this historic milestone or what it means for our future.

As President Nixon spoke to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, he said, “Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world … For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

Neil Armstrong’s one small step continues to propel humanity to ever greater heights. 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.

Today, we’re implementing President Trump’s Space Policy Directive-1 to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system.”

We have been charged by Vice President Pence on behalf of the President, to send the first woman and the next man to the lunar South Pole by 2024, and to “use all means necessary.” Under our Artemis program, we will go with innovative new technologies and systems to explore more locations across the surface than was ever thought possible. This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay. And then we will use what we learn on the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars. This is America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

This work is unfolding right now with the contributions of every single NASA center, and every single discipline represented in our talented workforce.

We are going to the Moon with commercial and international partners to explore faster and explore more together. We will bring new knowledge and opportunities and inspire the next generation. The Moon will provide a proving ground to test our technologies and resources that will take us to Mars and beyond, including building a sustainable, reusable architecture. And, in going to the Moon, we are laying the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.

Our backbone for Artemis is the biggest rocket ever built, the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion spacecraft and the Gateway lunar command module.

We’re staying on schedule for flying the Artemis-1 mission with our Orion spacecraft on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket next year, and for sending the first crewed mission, Artemis-2, to the lunar vicinity by 2022.

Our charge for a national exploration campaign will use the experience of the NASA workforce, coupled with the innovation of our commercial and international partners, to create an architecture that is open, sustainable and agile to move forward to the Moon once again and then on to Mars. This unified effort will create and inspire the “Artemis generation,” and change the course of history as we realize the next great scientific, economic and technical achievements in space.

Our work is one endeavor with three unique destinations: low-Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars. And we are building on the legacy of the pioneers at NASA – the brave women and men across the planet who helped us land 12 human beings on the lunar surface and bring them home safely. We are building on the success of commercial space around our planet and the vibrant opportunities is generates, even as we launch humanity once again to the lunar surface to do more science, explore more places, foster innovation, and inspire and engage partners around the world in the next chapter of our history.

As Apollo 11 made preparations for return, Buzz Aldrin said, “This has been far more than three men on a voyage to the Moon. More, still, than the efforts of a government and industry team. More, even, than the efforts of one nation. We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown.”

Neil Armstrong in the crew’s final television transmission from space, said, “The responsibility for this flight lies first with history and with the giants of science who have preceded this effort. Next with the American people, who have through their will, indicated their desire. Next, to four administrations, and their Congresses, for implementing that will. And then, to the agency and industry teams that built our spacecraft, the Saturn, the Columbia, the Eagle, and the little EMU; the spacesuit and backpack that was our small spacecraft out on the lunar surface.” He thanked all the Americans who put “their hearts and all their abilities into those craft.”

Going forward, we again require the deep and broad support of every American, lawmakers, our innovative and growing aerospace base, and the many passionate professionals who will stake their careers and the future of our species on what we do next in space.

Apollo 11 lifted us all up, as space continues to do on countless fronts that improve our daily lives, even as we look with awe beyond the bounds of our planet.

Starting with the Artemis program and continuing on to Mars, we’re going to do more of the civilization changing human space exploration begun with Apollo 11, and we look forward to the good will and ideas, and the “hearts and abilities,” of people everywhere to chart this brave course.

 

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.

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.

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.