Visiting One of Our Small Business Partners

Earlier today, I visited one of NASA’s most successful small business partners, Aurora Flight Sciences in Manassas, Virginia to get an up close and personal look at what can be achieved when government and industry work together to achieve big things, enhance American competitiveness, and create jobs.

Founded in 1989 by John Langford and a small team of aeronautics researchers from MIT, Aurora now employs about 400 people and has become a national leader in the design and manufacture of robotic and other advanced aerospace vehicles for both scientific and military applications.   This company is an example of the entrepreneurial spirit and innovative know-how that is key to ensuring American leadership and prosperity in the global economy of the 21st century.

Almost from its start, Aurora has partnered with us at NASA on a number of projects involving innovative future aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicle technology and the SPHERES satellite test bed.  During my visit, I was treated to a ground-based demonstration of the company’s new Centaur Optionally Piloted Aircraft, which has the capability of flying either with a human crew or in robotic mode.

All of us at NASA are proud of our role in advancing these technologies and contributing to the growth of this dynamic company.  We are excited by the part Aurora will play as we all work together with the FAA to create America’s Next Generation aeronautics system, the goal of which is to enhance the safety and reliability of air transportation, improve efficiency in the

National Airspace System, and reduce aviation’s impact on our environment. 

Finally, let me say, as the President also pointed out the other night, we must do more to ensure that high-tech companies like Aurora have the right workers with the right skills to maintain their momentum and remain competitive going forward.  Today, growing companies in science and technology have twice as many openings as they have workers who can do the job.  That is why the President has proposed more partnerships between high-tech companies and community colleges to train 2 million Americans for the jobs of today and tomorrow.  And it is why he and NASA are such strong supporters of science, technology, engineering and math – or the STEM disciplines – in our nation’s classrooms.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama laid out a blueprint for accelerating the nation’s economic recovery.  His vision for what he called, “an America Built to Last,” begins with American manufacturing.  He has proposed a number of incentives to help businesses grow, create jobs and succeed right here in America – especially small businesses that are leading the development of new technologies.

Based on what I saw today at Aurora, the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that made this country great is alive and well in Manassas, Virginia.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver sits in the left seat of the Aurora Flight Sciences, Centaur Optionally Piloted Aircraft (OPA) while Aurora Flight Sciences Test Pilot Tom Washington helps demonstrate how the aircraft works during Garver’s visit to the company on Friday, Jan. 26, 2012 in Manassas, VA. Garver visited Aurora Flight Sciences to help highlight how government can partner with small business to help create the jobs of the future through investment in science and technology. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

President Obama’s Strategic Vision and Actions Benefit the Florida Space Coast

I recently joined community leaders from Florida at the White Housefor a discussion about steps the Obama Administration and NASA aretaking to improve the economy of the Space Coast. Kennedy Space Centerand the entire Space Coast have been synonymous with NASA’s historic30-year Shuttle program as well as America’s first 50 years of humanspace flight. And with the ambitious plan the Administration andCongress have laid out for NASA, the Space Coast will remain a criticalpart of America’s space program.

The President has made three recent decisions that have set NASA and the Space Coast on a path of innovation, leadership, economic development and jobs well into the future.

First, at the President’s direction we are developing a new heavy lift rocket that will take our astronauts farther into space than ever before. Along with the work already occurring on a new deep space crew vehicle, this represents a milestone moment in NASA history.

We are now poised to take the next great leap into deep space exploration while at the same time creating good-paying U.S. jobs, and providing the cornerstone for America’s future human spaceflight efforts for decades to come.

Second, the President has extended the life of the International Space Station until at least 2020. This will support jobs in Central Florida for processing equipment and supplies for the ISS as well as future launches for cargo and crew.

And third, the Administration’s decision to turn transport of astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station over to commercial crew partners is already beginning to reap big dividends for the Space Coast. NASA announced in October a partnership with Space Florida to lease part of the Kennedy Space Center facilities to Boeing to build commercial space craft there and create 550 jobs.

At the President’s direction, we are engaging American companies in this work so that NASA can focus on what we do best – developing the next generation rocket and capsule systems for human space flights to deep space destinations where we have never been before.


White House Selects NASA Idea for Savings

As families across the country trim their budgets during these lean economic times, President Obama is also challenging the federal government to do the same through the SAVE Award – Securing Americans’ Value and Efficiency. The SAVE Award demonstrates that it’s not the responsibility of just one person or one agency to watch over taxpayer dollars – it’s an effort shared by each federal employee.

At NASA, we place a high value on operating efficiently and effectively so it’s no surprise that one of our employees’ initiatives has earned a spot in the 2011 SAVE Awards “Final Four” and now the American public has the opportunity to decide which one will be presented to President Obama.

Matthew Ritsko, a financial manager at Goddard Space Flight Center, has proposed creating a centralized tool crypt that will allow projects to “check out” tools for constructing instruments and spacecraft.

Officials at White House

President Barack Obama signs an Executive Order to cut waste and
promote efficient spending across the federal government in the Oval
Office, Nov. 9, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

New tools are purchased for projects and experiments constantly at NASA; since projects have a finite time-span, once the project ends, the tool is no longer needed until a future program requires it. Without a tracking system, the tool may not get utilized. Ritsko’s proposal is to create a centralized area where tools can be checked in and out at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

This proposal is estimated to save NASA and taxpayers $1 million.

I also joined President Obama today for the signing of an Executive Order that will cut waste and promote more efficient spending across the federal government. Overall spending in the areas covered by the Executive Order will be reduced by 20 percent, saving billions.

Congratulations to Matthew Ritsko for his innovative idea and for representing NASA!

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.

Preparing for Jobs of the Future

In Boulder, Colorado, a group of students are working now at jobs of the future. They are building satellites and rockets, turning what has been something they previously only read about into a hands-on experience.

More than 100 Colorado high school students and college students from across the country have spent the summer building six high-powered rockets and 20 payloads. Four of the payloads were developed by college interns at Ball Aerospace, as part of the BIRST (Ball Intern Rocket Scientist Team) program.

High school students from Colorado built the other 16 payloads. The payloads will be launched Saturday on rockets made by college students from across the country who are working as interns for United Launch Alliance.

NASA currently is working on technology to take us deeper into space and travel to a variety of destinations, including asteroids, Earth’s moon, the moons of Mars, and eventually Mars itself. These students also are working on technologies to take their work into space. This summer is preparing them for the future, both theirs and ours as a nation.

These students are the future workers, designers, builders and engineers (and, yes, taxpayers) for commercial rockets going to the ISS and NASA-built deep-space exploration vehicles going to asteroids and Mars. Tomorrow’s space program is taking shape right now, and these students are training for those jobs of the future. Many of the jobs they will do haven’t been invented yet – but they are prepared to do those jobs when they exist.

NASA is departing from the model of the past, in which the government funded all space activities. To succeed, we want more than one human spaceflight provider to accommodate all of the needs we anticipate in the future. We need robust redundancy, so to speak, and we want it to be American-made. And with the success of multiple commercial partners, it frees up NASA to do the hard things, like travel to an asteroid and Mars.

This month, for the first time, we put a spacecraft, Dawn, into orbit around an asteroid. Later this year, we will launch spacecraft to Jupiter, our moon, and Mars. These missions are precursors to sending people there. What we learn from each of these missions helps us build a future where humans travel throughout the solar system.

We are building the crew vehicle that will take us there in the not-so-distant future. The President has charged us with the goal of landing humans on an asteroid by 2025. That’s a tough mission, but it is the kind of challenge that NASA does best.

We are working to help build the economy of the future, with a robust commercial space market and the opportunity to travel to space for anyone. In fact, we just signed an agreement with ULA to share data on the potential for human rating a ULA Atlas V launch vehicle as part of the Commercial Crew Development program.

NASA’s future is bright. So is the future for these students getting hands-on experience this summer. The jobs of the future are innovative, involve cutting-edge technologies, and will lead to exciting and challenging missions. Most of all, it’s what makes this country great.

The Future is Bright

We are on the cusp of a great milestone for NASA and this country with the final launch of the space shuttle program. I am so proud of the men and women of the NASA workforce, both government and industry, who have proudly flown the shuttle over the past 30 years.

The space shuttle has provided unbelievable benefits and return on investment to the American taxpayer. The orbiter fleet has launched spacecraft to other planets enabling amazing scientific discoveries; spacecraft that make possible communications that keep our service men and women out of harm’s way; and of course the shuttle has helped build the International Space Station.

As Administrator Charlie Bolden said last week, human spaceflight is not ending with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program. Indeed, American leadership in space will continue for at least the next half century. We will maximize the use of the International Space Station. This is really our toehold for the future and the centerpiece of our human spaceflight program. We have extended station operations until 2020. We are working to reduce the gap in spaceflight for cargo and crew to the International Space Station.

Americans are so proud of our space exploration history and we believe we will be going further faster as we develop the next generation of spacecraft. We are working with our industry team on the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the next-generation capsule that’s going to take our astronauts to those far destinations. We are working on the Space Launch System, the heavy lift rocket that will complement and carry the capsule. Once again, this nation will have the opportunity to raise the bar and do big things. Great nations explore, and we are going to demonstrate what human beings can do when we are challenged.

We have been given a road map by President Obama and Congress, a charge to reach those new heights and reveal the unknown and leave future generations with more capability than we have today. We’ve set our sights on destinations in the solar system, going beyond low-Earth orbit, first to an asteroid in around 2025 and then on to Mars in the mid 2030s.

NASA science has incredible things coming up. Just in the next six months, we will go to Mars with the Curiosity rover, to the Moon with our GRAIL mission, and to Jupiter with Juno. And there are many, many more missions coming up to improve the understanding not only of our home planet but the solar system and beyond.

We are investing in technologies that will make our rockets go farther and faster, so that we can continue to build on the capabilities NASA invested in over our first 50 years of history. We will also continue our cutting-edge aeronautics research and improve tomorrow’s aircraft and systems that we all depend on to get from place to place on this planet.

The retirement of the Space Shuttle program is not an end; it’s the start of the next chapter in American space exploration. As the United States continues to lead the world, we truly, truly salute the workforce of this amazing space shuttle program. We will be standing on the shoulders of the shuttle program as we embark on the next chapter of our nation’s journey of exploration.

Manufacturing Innovation

NASA has always been on the cutting edge of innovation, investing time, energy and resources into the technologies of tomorrow. Technologies that can be spun-off into the private sector to help create jobs and improve the quality of life of all Americans.

With funding from NASA’s Aeronautics division, engineers at NASA¹s Langley Research Center have developed a manufacturing process that has turned science fiction into science fact. The Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, or EBF3, is a process that uses an electron beam gun, a dual wire feed and computer controls to manufacture metallic structures for building parts or tools in hours, rather than days or weeks.

The EBF3 is being used to manufacture titanium spars for vertical tails of the F-35 Joint Fight Striker. Less wasted titanium and reduced machining times result in a savings for Lockheed Martin, and ultimately the American taxpayer.

In fact, most of the interest in the technology is coming from the aerospace industry because of the EBF3’s capability to tailor the manufacturing of critical aviation components to help improve the performance of aircraft.

The EBF3 can manufacture complex shapes in a single operation, uses less power, and is safer for the workers operating it. The computer-driven process leaves behind no wasted material. It can also resurface a design with a harder material, making it more cost-efficient as well as lighter. For the aviation industry, lighter means less fuel is needed in flight.

As the technology is introduced, applications for new industries are evolving. For example, Virginia manufactures have expressed interest in the technology and General Motors is exploring it to build tools for automobile manufacturing.

For NASA, the EBF3 is being tested as a sort of remote machine shop for future space missions. We have flown the EBF3 on planes that simulate microgravity, testing how the EBF3 would work in space. This manufacturing technology could be valuable for future long-duration deep space missions, where tools and parts could be manufactured on site, eliminating the need to pack spares or send out resupply missions.

This kind of pioneering technology holds so much promise and potential for the future. These are the game-changing innovations that set America apart from her competitors around the world – and lead to the creation of manufacturing jobs. We are retooling industry for a new age, and ensuring that Americans are inventing and building the new things that the world needs.

American builders and doers – like NASA engineers and scientists – imagine a better future for us all, and help build the tools to get us there.