Orbital Launches: Another Successful Milestone in Our Exploration Strategy

It was a thrill to be at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia today for the successful launch of the Antares rocket on its maiden voyage. Today’s test flight marks another important milestone in NASA’s plan for American companies to launch supplies to the International Space Station for fewer tax dollars, bringing this important work back to the United States where it belongs. I congratulate the Orbital and NASA teams that helped to make this achievement possible.

What Orbital did today is a culmination of the innovation that NASA has helped seed for the past several years. We’re returning space station launches to U.S. soil, first with cargo, next with crewed launches.

This is all part of our overall strategy: let industry develop the capabilities to pursue to low Earth orbit, something we have been doing for over 50 years, while NASA focuses on the farther destinations like an asteroid and Mars.

NASA continues to unfold a plan that we’ve been implementing since the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 gave us a strong bipartisan agreement on our direction. Commercial cargo and crew capabilities were a key component of that agreement, and our progress in both areas has been rapid. Our partner SpaceX has now completed two contracted cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station, and Orbital will later this year undertake its first demonstration mission to the station.

SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada are also working hard on the capabilities to carry astronauts to space within the next four years — returning this vital capability to American soil.

It’s essential that our commercial cargo and crew efforts be fully funded in President Obama’s FY2014 budget request, which was unveiled last week. The budget ensures the United States will remain the world’s leader in space exploration and scientific discovery for years to come, while making critical advances in aerospace and aeronautics to benefit the American people.

It continues investments in commercial space, technology development, Earth sciences and deep space exploration.

It’s a budget that advances our strategic plan for the future, building on U.S. preeminence in science and technology, improves life on Earth and protects our home planet, while creating well-paying jobs and strengthening the American economy.

Under this budget proposal, NASA has laid out a mission to fulfill the President’s challenge to send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025. Our plan is to send a robotic spacecraft to capture and move an asteroid, to then be visited by astronauts in trans-lunar space. This mission represents an unprecedented technological feat — raising the bar for human exploration and discovery, while helping protect our home planet and bring us greater understanding of these important celestial bodies.

Launches like today are critical to lowering our operations costs in Low Earth Orbit, so that we can maximize our utilization of the Space Station and gain the experience necessary to explore farther.

So as Antares successfully lifted off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, it truly was a future moment, a moment when we took another step toward making the next great era of exploration a reality. We look forward to the next milestones from Orbital and all of our commercial partners and to reaching higher toward an asteroid and on to Mars.

Advancing American Leadership in Space Exploration and Scientific Discovery

Earlier today, President Obama unveiled his Fiscal Year 2014 budget for NASA. This request is a $17.7 billion investment in our nation’s future. It ensures the United States will remain the world’s leader in space exploration and scientific discovery for years to come, while making critical advances in aerospace and aeronautics to benefit the American people.

In 2010, President Obama challenged us to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and then onto Mars in the 2030s. Since then, we have been developing technologies and exploration hardware to send humans on those deep space missions. Using game-changing technologies, NASA is now developing a first-ever mission to identify, capture, and retrieve an asteroid. This mission represents an unprecedented technological feat – raising the bar for human exploration and discovery. Asteroids are incredibly important objects to humanity:

•     Scientifically – offering valuable insights into the origins of the Universe

•     Planetary threats – for their demonstrated role in shaping our planet and life on it

•     Resources – as a potential source of resources for future space development

•     Destinations – as a destination to advance our human exploration technologies and capabilities

That is why we made an asteroid our next destination for human exploration three years ago. In addition to funding this asteroid mission planning, our budget funds an initiative to accelerate identification and characterization of asteroids that pose a threat to our planet. We will use existing capabilities including the Orion crew capsule and the SLS rocket, to benefit more fully from our ongoing investments.

The International Space Station – where astronauts live and work every single day – is the centerpiece of human exploration. This budget sustains operations and allows us to perform technology demonstrations and scientific research only possible in microgravity, all helping to improve life here on Earth and plan for missions into deep space.

Our Commercial Cargo program is funded to keep already successful operations on track and our Commercial Crew program has the resources to ensure that our astronauts are launching from U.S. soil on spacecraft built by American companies by 2017, ending our reliance on other nations and opening up new commercial markets in space.

The budget funds our amazing fleet of scientific spacecraft, including strong support for study of the Earth and its response to natural or human-induced changes. And on the heels of the most daring mission to Mars in history last year, it provides funding to launch other missions to the Red Planet – including one later this year. We also will continue our steady progress to develop and conduct critical tests on the James Webb Space Telescope, leading to its planned launch in 2018.

NASA’s 2014 budget focuses on an ambitious new mission to expand America’s capabilities in space, steady progress on new space and aeronautic technologies, continued success with commercial space partnerships, and far-reaching science programs to help us understand Earth and the universe in which we live. It keeps us competitive, opens the door to new destinations and vastly increases our knowledge. It also supports the Administration’s commitment that NASA leads in science and technology through innovative solutions that inspire the world.

I am excited about this budget. While tough choices had to be made in this tight budgetary environment, I believe it strengthens us for the future and prepares NASA to continue to lead the way in this new era of exploration and discovery.