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.