I’m excited to launch this blog to keep you informed of all the incredible things we’re working on at NASA, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic where virtual has become many of our new normal.
Safety of the NASA workforce has remained our top priority throughout these challenging times. Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, Associate Administrator Bob Cabana, and I are immensely proud of our NASA family.
This agency has a long history of success in aviation, technology, human and robotic exploration. This year alone, it’s incredible what we’ve achieved with Perseverance, Ingenuity, commercial crew, sustainable aviation, and Artemis.
NASA kicked off a new initiative to expand and modify agency activities to remove barriers and challenges facing historically underrepresented and underserved communities. We’re also focusing our efforts in STEM engagement and other key areas critical to our nation, including helping tackle the climate emergency and advancing technologies that will benefit us here on Earth and farther into the solar system.
While we have maintained critical operations throughout the pandemic, we’re starting to see more and more of effects catchup with NASA and our partners. We know how dedicated our teams are because we’ve seen their perseverance tested time and time again. I anticipate the coming years will be no different – there’s so much ahead for the agency and our nation, especially with Artemis.
Now almost 50 years since our last Apollo mission, we’re preparing to return astronauts to the Moon. Once again, our crews will launch from Kennedy, and our Artemis astronauts will boldly explore more of the lunar surface than ever before, beginning with the lunar South Pole.
Teams at Kennedy are busy finalizing integration of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I flight test. We’re still eying their first launch by the end of the year. However, our crews on the ground are contending with rising COVID cases in Florida, weather, and first-time operations challenges, so we’ll have a better sense of timing after stacking operations are complete next month. This first uncrewed mission is close and it will set the stage for all Artemis missions to come.
Our long-term lunar vision calls for so much on and around the Moon this decade – and we’re not doing it alone. Together with our commercial and international partners we’ll turn science fiction into reality when we setup the Artemis Base Camp on the surface and Gateway in lunar orbit.
Of course, the key connection between orbital and surface operations will be modern commercial human landing systems (HLS). We’ve already made an award for an uncrewed and crewed demonstration landing mission under Option A contract for HLS. While there is a stay of performance for as late as Nov. 8 on that contract, our broader efforts to work with American companies on landers for Artemis missions is moving forward.
NASA announced today it has selected five companies to mature lander design concepts that will help minimize design risks and advance new technologies while we gain critical insight toward a sustainable lunar architecture. The companies are Blue Origin, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and SpaceX.
With this accelerated effort to focus our work on HLS concepts and risk reduction solutions this year, we’re priming industry to submit their proposals for regular crewed lunar transportation services next year. Those services, which call for carrying crew in a lander from Gateway in orbit to the lunar surface and back, are slated to begin in the late 2020s.
As we’ve done in low-Earth orbit with commercial crew and cargo, our goal is to be one of many customers in a rapidly growing lunar economy. Our cycle of development to operations is a success aboard the International Space Station. We’re seeing that model taking shape now at the Moon. And much of what we accomplish 240,000 miles from Earth will get us ready for our next giant leap – sending American astronauts to Mars.
It’s an honor to serve as Administrator in these extraordinary times. The years ahead will be tough – but inspiring and very, very rewarding. I hope you continue to follow NASA as we push the boundaries of human exploration farther into the solar system. And until we can shake hands, fist bump or whatever the new normal becomes after the pandemic, I hope you’ll follow along here, too.