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!

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.

Human Exploration of Mars is on the Horizon

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!

Congratulations to the UAE on an Inspiring Mission of Hope

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!

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.

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.

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

 

A 21st Century Budget for 21st Century Space Exploration

President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget for NASA is worthy of 21st-century exploration and discovery. The President’s budget invests more than $25 billion in NASA to fortify our innovative human space exploration program while maintaining strong support for our agency’s full suite of science, aeronautics, and technology work.

The budget proposed represents a 12 percent increase and makes this one of the strongest budgets in NASA history. The reinforced support from the President comes at a critical time as we lay the foundations for landing the first woman and the next man on the South Pole of the Moon by 2024. This budget keeps us firmly on that path.

We are preparing to achieve pivotal milestones this year in development of the Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, and the Gateway. These make up the backbone of our Artemis program and are fully supported by this budget. They constitute our ability to build a sustainable lunar presence and eventually send human missions to Mars.

Most noteworthy, is the President’s direct funding of $3.3 billion for the development of a human landing system. This is the first time we have had direct funding for a human lander since the Apollo Program. We are serious about our 2024 goals, and the President’s budget supports our efforts to get the job done.

We will soon launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time in nearly a decade. This recaptured ability will not only allow us to do more science and more exploration than ever before, but will also broaden commercial activity in low-Earth orbit to support ever greater private partnerships.

As we prepare to celebrate 20 years of continuous human presence aboard the International Space Station this year, we will continue to look for ways to partner with private enterprise and give more people access to the unique environment microgravity offers. Similarly, when we go to the Moon in the next four years, we are interested in taking the world with us. This includes those involved in our Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative and the international relationships we have forged over the decades.

The FY 2021 budget positions NASA to spearhead a new era of human space exploration without focusing funds on one program at the expense of others. This all-of-NASA approach to the future will help us take advantage of all the exciting, new horizons emerging in science, aeronautics, and technology.

The decadal survey priorities are strongly supported by this budget, including history’s first Mars sample return mission, the Europa Clipper, and development of a host of new trailblazing Earth observation missions. In aeronautics, the budget backs all our cutting-edge research on commercial use of supersonic aircraft, all-electric airplanes, and development of an unmanned aerial system that will make flying small drones safer and more efficient in the 21st century.

NASA is on the cusp of embarking on era-defining exploration. The civilization-changing technology we develop will deepen humanity’s scientific knowledge of the universe and how to take care of our ever-changing world.

I am confident the FY 2021 budget’s proper investment in our agency’s priorities, coupled with NASA’s unmatched talents and expertise, will strengthen our national posture for continued space preeminence and, as President Trump said during his State of the Union speech last week, help our nation embrace the next frontier.

To learn more about our budget, please visit: www.nasa.gov/budget

Day of Remembrance – January 30, 2020

Each year at this time, the NASA community pauses on this Day of Remembrance to honor the brave women and men who lost their lives for the most noble of goals: the pursuit of truth and greater understanding. Today, we remember the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia, as well as those who surrendered all in support of missions of exploration and discovery. Our expressions of gratitude for their sacrifice cannot retract the overwhelming pain of their loss, but perhaps our efforts can further propel forward the purpose for which they gave their lives.

NASA’s Day of Remembrance gives all of us an opportunity to thoughtfully reflect on the lessons of the past and on the lives of those who dared slip the bonds of Earth and reach for greater heights. Space exploration holds many rewards as well as countless unforgiving dangers. Unfortunately, NASA has learned through sad experience the high price spaceflight demands for mistakes and failures. Each of these tragedies have changed NASA. The lessons we learned from them influence everything we do today, ensuring the sacrifices of the fallen will never be forgotten.

Shortly after the Apollo 1 accident that catastrophically killed all three crew members, flight director Gene Kranz addressed his team at mission control. “Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity and neglect,” he said. “Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up [and] we should have caught it.” Kranz insisted that from that moment on his team would be known for two words: “tough and competent.” This renewed sense of personal accountability marked the transformation of a slapdash engineering culture into one with a relentless pursuit of perfection. This culture of excellence has persisted and permeated throughout all of NASA. Similarly, the Challenger and Columbia investigative reports have further perfected and cemented our unrelenting determination to keep our astronauts safe.

Taps is played by a member of The Old Guard after NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns as part of NASA’s Day of Remembrance, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The wreaths were laid in memory of those men and women who lost their lives in the quest for space exploration. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

This year the lessons of the past are ever at the forefront of our minds as we prepare to return human spaceflight to our nation. In the very near future, we will once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil – something not done since the end of the Shuttle program in 2011, and a capability our nation must never lose again. NASA’s close partnerships with American businesses will revolutionize spaceflight as commercial spacecraft pave the way to an era of greater human spaceflight opportunities than ever before. These commercial partners know that our standards of safety are uncompromising and are informed by the heart-wrenching loss of heroes we will forever honor on this Day of Remembrance.

The daring pioneer spirit of our men and women throughout the years as they take their seats aboard our spacecraft is remarkable. There is nothing inevitable about scientific discovery nor is there a predetermined path of cutting-edge innovation. Long hours of arduous study and courageous experimentation are required merely to glimpse a flicker of enlightenment that can lead to greater heights of human achievement. Our fallen heroes knew this and it is why they risked their lives. To expand our knowledge of the cosmos is to pursue a better life on Earth for our children, and future generations to come. Much of the technological triumphs and success we enjoy today and the scientific advancements awaiting humanity on the horizon of this new, dynamic era of 21st-century spaceflight are the very gifts they wished to bestow. Our efforts today in pursuing the objectives of the Artemis Program and others honor our heroes for the foundations they laid that make our success possible.

Today on NASA’s Day of Remembrance, I encourage all to reflect on the legacy and memory of our friends and colleagues who lost their lives to advance humanity to new frontiers. Let us give gratitude not only in words but through our actions by redoubling our efforts in honor of their selfless sacrifice.

 

 

NASA Authorization Bill Update

I would like to thank the Committee for producing a comprehensive NASA authorization bill. I am particularly encouraged that the bill is proceeding on a bipartisan basis, reflecting a consensus on a Moon to Mars approach. Maintaining a bipartisan, consensus approach is critical to constancy of purpose and supporting a long-term national commitment to the human exploration of the Moon and Mars. The bill envisions a destination of Mars while supporting missions to the Moon as the most effective strategy to achieve that critical, shared goal. NASA would appreciate the opportunity to work with the Committee in a bipartisan way, as we did with the Senate Commerce Committee, on some modifications.

I am concerned that the bill imposes some significant constraints on our approach to lunar exploration. As you know, NASA has successfully fostered the development of a rapidly expanding commercial economy for access to space. We would like to continue building on this success as we develop the most efficient mission architectures and partnership approaches to accomplish our shared goals.

NASA seeks to expand the sphere of economic activity deeper into space by conducting space exploration and development with commercial and international partners. Without the dynamic participation of commercial partners, our chances of creating a sustainable exploration program are significantly diminished. In particular, we are concerned that the bill’s approach to developing a human lander system as fully government-owned and directed would be ineffective. The approach established by the bill would inhibit our ability to develop a flexible architecture that takes advantage of the full array of national capabilities – government and private sector – to accomplish national goals. NASA would appreciate the opportunity to work with the Committee to develop language that would support a broader national and international effort that would maximize progress toward our shared exploration goals through the efficient application of our available resources.

NASA is fully committed to a lunar exploration program that supports and enables human missions to Mars. The Committee should be aware that the exploration of Mars is a very challenging goal both technically and from a resource perspective. If we are going to accomplish this goal, we will need the flexibility to rapidly develop technical expertise using the Moon and to fully engage commercial and international partners. We do think that the bill’s concerns for limiting activities on the Moon could be counterproductive. If we are going to explore Mars in a safe and sustainable way, we will require a strong in situ resource utilization capability and significant technology development using the surface of the Moon. NASA would appreciate more flexibility in defining lunar surface activities that may contribute directly to Mars exploration.

NASA subject matter experts are now closely reviewing the available bill text to identify issues and concerns of a more technical, detailed nature, and we would appreciate an opportunity to share the results of this review with the Committee at the appropriate time.

We would welcome an opportunity to work with the Committee on a bill that would accommodate a broader partnership approach. I appreciate the Committee’s bipartisan efforts and congratulate you on producing this bipartisan consensus in favor of a Moon to Mars exploration program.