The Webb Telescope

On any given day at NASA, I might run into an astronaut or a Senator or maybe even a Nobel Prize winning scientist. This morning, I attended an event at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore which featured all of the above: a former Shuttle astronaut, a United States Senator and not one, but three Nobel Prize winners. But the star of the show was NASA’s Webb Telescope, now in development, which will be the successor to the Hubble Telescope and the most powerful space telescope ever built. The occasion was the ribbon cutting of a new permanent Maryland Science Center exhibit of the Webb Telescope and the viewing of a full-size replica of the Webb which was perched outside the Museum’s front door.

On hand for the ceremony were Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski; Jeff Grant, Vice President and General Manager of Northrop Grumman Space Systems Division, the Webb Telescope builder; and John Grunsfeld of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the science operations center for both the Hubble and Webb Telescopes. John is a former NASA astronaut who some have called the “Chief Hubble Repairman” for this three shuttle missions to service the Hubble Telescope.

Also in attendance were three NASA-affiliated Nobel Prize recipients who have played leading roles in the advancement of space telescope science. They are Riccardo Giacconi, recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics and the first director of STScI; John Mather, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics who is the Webb Telescope senior project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and Adam Riess, recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics and a senior member of STScI. Prior to the event, I was pleased to present Dr. Riess with NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in recognition of his outstanding contributions to space science. Dr. Riess used the Hubble Space Telescope to prove the existence of dark energy.

But, again, the real star of the event was the Webb Telescope. It will be 100 times more powerful than Hubble. While Hubble helped rewrite science textbooks as we uncovered vast new areas of knowledge and witnessed phenomena never seen before, Webb will reveal even more of the unknown from its vantage point a million miles above the earth. It will help find the first galaxies that formed the early universe, connecting the Big Bang to our own Milky Way Galaxy. And it will peer through dusty clouds to see stars forming planetary systems

As I reminded those in attendance, science remains integral to NASA’s future. In just the past few months, we’ve launched missions to Jupiter and the moon. We’ll launch a new Earth-observing satellite this Friday. And in November, the Curiosity rover will be on its way to Mars.

Those are just a few of NASA’s newest science missions. Many others are already in orbit around the Earth.

It is also important to remember that while these missions occur in space, the investments made, and the jobs created to support these missions, happen right here on Earth.

Commercial Flight Development Creates American Jobs

Earlier today, I spoke with a group of women and men who are helping to write the next chapter in human space exploration, creating jobs and opening up endless possibilities for our economy. Innovators and entrepreneurs from around the nation came together this week at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to learn from each other and share ideas about how we can more effectively advance commercial spaceflight.

To reach for new heights and explore farther into our solar system than we have ever before, we are handing off transportation to the International Space Station to the private sector. This will allow NASA to concentrate on developing the deep space capabilities necessary to send humans to an asteroid and Mars. It also will support the creation of American jobs and bring the launches of our astronauts back to U.S. soil. At NASA, we’re committed to having American companies send our astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station, rather than continuing to outsource this work to foreign governments.

According to a recent study by the Federal Aviation Administration, commercial space transportation and enabling industries generated $208 billion in economic activity and employed more than 1 million people in 2009, with earnings exceeding $53 billion. That economic impact is only expected to grow.

At NASA, we’re doing our part to help develop this industry, one that until recently largely had been seen as science fiction, but now stands poised to open up this new frontier and transform the space exploration business. That’s good for space exploration – and good for the American economy.

With our space priorities established, NASA is focusing our programs to create a future filled with new achievements, including the area of commercial spaceflight, allowing us to take the next leap in deep space exploration while creating good-paying U.S. jobs.

A New Agreement for Commercial Launch Vehicles

This week, NASA signed an agreement with the US Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office to establish common criteria for certification of commercial providers of launch vehicles used for national security space and civil space missions. The new certification strategy is the latest step in a cooperative effort by the Air Force, NASA and NRO to take advantage of new launch capability for the three agencies’ missions. This agreement also supports President Obama’s recent directive that executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves.

NASA has been a leader in building innovative ways to purchase commercial launches of our science payloads, and at the same time, helping grow the American launch sector. This agreement means that we will share a common framework and language for communicating expectations to new launch service providers. We believe this common strategy will make it easier for new providers to enter the launch market, while maintaining the high safety standards for government missions.

A strong commercial launch sector is critical to our country’s economy, just as a reliable, safe launch capability is critical to civil and national security space missions.

NASA has a successful history of purchasing launch vehicles from commercial providers for science payloads. While we have different mission requirements than our colleagues at the NRO and USAF, our need for reliable launch vehicles is the same. Together we are building on common experience to create a framework that will help us work with new launch providers, and create an American-built space sector that leads the world in launch capabilities.

Next Generation of Scientists

Earlier today I had the honor of meeting four individuals who are helping NASA turn the dreams of today into the reality of tomorrow. They are winners of the 2010 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Today we honored the four NASA winners in a ceremony at agency headquarters. Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati, Acting Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Chuck Gay, and others joined me to recognize the award-winning work of Drs. Jonathan Cirtain, Ian Howat, Gregory Howes, and Benjamin Mazin. We were fortunate to have them and their families here with us today. Tomorrow they will be recognized in a ceremony at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History along with the other 90 recipients of this year’s PECASE awards.

From the outer edges of our solar system to the dynamic surface of the Earth, these scientists are revolutionizing what we know about the world around us. Their leadership in astrophysics, heliophysics and Earth science will chart our path forward as we explore further into space.

I am particularly proud of the fact that the awardees were selected not only for their innovative research, but also for their commitment to community service through scientific leadership, public education and community outreach. By devoting their time to mentoring and informing the world about the important science we do here at NASA, these individuals are making an impact that will be felt for years to come.

The Presidential early career awards embody the high priority the Obama Administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the Nation’s goals, contribute to the American economy, and tackle the grand challenges we face today and will face in the future. That’s what we do here at NASA. We are in the future business. Our science missions on the International Space Station are preparing the next generation of astronauts to live and work even deeper in space. Our science instruments and data monitoring earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis are saving lives here on earth. And our investment in knowledge is not only paving the way to a better tomorrow, it is generating jobs and a stronger economy here and now today.

These talented scientists are the living embodiment of NASA’s enduring commitment to scientific innovation. It is inspiring to see such important work at this early stage in their careers. I look forward to seeing more great achievements from them in the very near future.