Japan Visit Caps Historic Week for NASA

Last week, I had the unique opportunity to celebrate the successful berthing of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule with the ISS, while visiting one of NASA’s closest partners in space exploration, Japan. I want to join NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in congratulating the joint SpaceX/NASA team for flawlessly executing the first commercial company launch and docking to the International Space Station. This truly marks the start of a new era in spaceflight that advances America’s leadership while creating good jobs for American workers. I can tell you that our Japanese partners were almost as excited by this achievement as we all were.

I had originally planned to visit Tokyo in April of the last year, but the tragic events surrounding the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that occurred in March 2011 required me to postpone my trip. Throughout my visit to Japan I was heartened to hear inspiring stories of recovery and to see firsthand the spirit of the Japanese people who are continuing their recovery efforts.

The highlight of my trip was strategic discussions with senior officials from the Japanese government including JAXA President Tachikawa, my counterpart and host JAXA Vice President Higuchi and other senior JAXA officials as I conducted visits to three JAXA research centers in the Tokyo area. NASA has active cooperation with Japan in almost all areas of our activities and more than 40 cooperative agreements.

During my visit I also had meetings with Motohisa Furukawa, the Minister for Space Policy, and Tenzo Okumura, the Vice Minister for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), both of whom are members of the ruling party in the Diet. The Ministers each expressed appreciation for the support NASA provided following the earthquake last year and noted that the cooperation between NASA and JAXA in space is vital to Japan. In addition to visiting JAXA Tsukuba Space Center, I went to the JAXA Sagamihara Campus, which houses space science, exploration and education activities, and JAXA Chofu Aerospace Center, which is responsible for aeronautics research. It was clear from all my interactions that the Japanese are eager to play a role in future exploration activities.

My significant interactions with government and JAXA officials were the primary purpose for my visit, but I also met with industry representatives from the U.S. (at the American Chamber of Commerce) and Japan (at the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies) and participated in a press conference. The visit was very successful. It emphasized NASA’s high-level support for the NASA-JAXA relationship, included strategic discussions on potential future cooperative activities, and gave me the opportunity to learn more about one of America’s closest allies in space.

Robonaut 2 Team Honored

Each May we take time to honor public servants as part of Public Service Recognition Week. The men and women who serve our nation are dedicated to the goal of making government work for all Americans. I am honored to be one small part of the greatest government in the world, working with some of the best and brightest.

NASA employees can be found across the country, creating the next generation spacecraft that will carry people into our solar system, studying the building blocks of the universe, designing satellites to observe our home planet, and researching ways to make our aviation system safer, cleaner and more efficient. NASA employees are also doing things that are out of this world, living and working in orbit on the International Space Station.

Each year, the Partnership for Public Service honors outstanding federal employees who have made a significant difference in the lives of Americans.

I am delighted that one of the finalists for the 2012 Science and Environment Medal is Ron Diftler and NASA’s Robonaut 2 Team. Ron and his team developed the first humanoid robot to fly in space. With human-like hands and the dexterity to perform intricate tasks, R2 will eventually take over operations too dangerous or mundane for astronauts.

Public servants like the Robonaut team work every day to make life better, for astronauts in space and for everyone here on Earth. Thank you for all the work you do.

Test Fire of Commercial Cargo Rocket Engine

Earlier today, I was at NASA’s Stennis Space Center to watch a test of Aerojet’s AJ26 Engine E9, which will provide first-stage power for Orbtial Sciences’ Antares rockets on their ISS cargo supply missions. Orbital is preparing for an August test flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program.

A team of NASA, Orbital and Aerojet engineers monitored the hot-fire engine test on the E-1 Test Stand at Stennis. After test data is reviewed and the engine is inspected, it will be shipped to the Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia for installation on the rocket.

NASA is committed to launching from American soil – on spacecraft built by American companies. We’re utilizing the skills of a talented workforce and the facilities – like those at Stennis – that have powered a nation into space for more than 50 years.

Our proposed fiscal year 2013 budget funds this important work and advances our goal of bringing human space launches back to the U.S.

By partnering with multiple companies, NASA will lower the cost of access to space and foster an innovative, American capability to transport supplies and eventually astronauts to low Earth orbit. It makes good sense for our economy and for the space program.

We are on the brink of a milestone moment in NASA space history, part of a long-term strategy that will create good-paying, high-quality jobs here in the United States. Next week, another American space company plans to launch a rocket and space capsule to the International Space Station, becoming the first private-sector firm to ever do so. Working with NASA, several other private American companies are making progress towards providing U.S.-based access to the space station.

Today’s test was the latest example of the progress being made to implement the bi-partisan exploration plan agreed to by the President and Congress – and keep the U.S. the world leader in space.