NASA is on a Journey to Mars and a new consensus is emerging around our plan, vision and timetable for sending American astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. Our strategy calls for working with commercial partners to get our astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station while NASA also focuses – simultaneously — on getting our astronauts to deep space.
Few would have imagined back in 2010 when President Barack Obama pledged that NASA would work “with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable,” that less than six years later we’d be able to say commercial carriers have transported 35,000 of pounds of space cargo (and counting!) to the International Space Station (ISS) – or that we’d be so firmly on track to return launches of American astronauts to the ISS from American soil on American commercial carriers.
But that is exactly what is happening.
Since the first SpaceX Dragon commercial resupply mission to deliver cargo to the ISS in October 2012 and Orbital ATK’s first Cygnus mission in January 2014, American companies have delivered cargo to the Space Station that enables our astronauts to work off Earth for Earth on extensive and ongoing scientific research and technology demonstrations aboard the Space Station. This has included investigations that directly benefit life on Earth and expand commercial access to microgravity research through the U.S. National Laboratory (which is operated by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space or CASIS).
All this matters because NASA research helps us understand our home planet as well as the solar system and beyond, while technology demonstrations and human health research like astronaut Scott Kelly’s one-year mission and the Twins Study aboard the Space Station prepare us for long-duration missions into deep space.
As a result, we are closer than ever before to sending American astronauts to Mars and at the very same time, we’re “insourcing” American jobs and empowering American entrepreneurs and innovators to expand the nascent commercial market in low-Earth orbit.
Today, thanks to the bold plan laid out by the President, Americans are working at more than 1,000 companies in nearly every state in the Union on NASA commercial space initiatives.
Across the board, about 80% of NASA’s activities are carried out by our partners in industry and at America’s academic institutions. We develop more than 1,600 new technologies a year and work with business partners to transfer thousands of products, services and processes into the market for job creation and economic growth. More venture capital was invested in America’s space industry in 2015 than in all the previous 15 years combined.
In other words, at NASA we’re exploring deep space, but we’re anchored right here on Earth, where we’re creating jobs and fueling innovation, technology development and growth, recognizing that it all depends on American ingenuity and innovation.
With the recent passage of the FY2016 federal budget and our selection of Robert Behnken, Sunita Williams, Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley to be the first NASA astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, we are close to returning human launches to American soil and ending our sole reliance on the Russians to get into space.
In addition, the commercial crew spacecraft will enable us to add a seventh crew member to the normal Space Station crew complement, effectively doubling the amount of crew time available to conduct research off Earth for Earth. The additional research (and crew supplies) will be delivered during cargo resupply missions.
A NEW MILESTONE
Despite critics who may have said this was a pipe dream just five short years ago, we continue to transform the way NASA does business and as a result, today we’re able to mark another significant milestone that will carry President Obama’s vision further into the future.
This afternoon, our ISS team in Houston will announce that NASA is making its new award for commercial space cargo delivery to the ISS.
This is a big deal, because our commercial resupply missions enable NASA and our private industry and other government agency partners to continue the extensive, ongoing scientific research aboard the Space Station.
President Obama extended the life of the International Space Station through at least 2024 (with the support of Congress) and our commercial cargo providers ensure cargo resupply missions continue, enabling us to keep using the station as our springboard to the rest of the solar system and a test bed for human health in space. Today’s selection builds on our initial resupply partnerships. It will ensure that NASA maintains the capability and flexibility to operate the ISS and conduct the vital research of a unique National Lab through resupply services launching from the United States.
As President Obama said, “in fulfilling this task, we will not only extend humanity’s reach in space — we will strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.” Our investment in commercial space is creating jobs and it’s bringing us closer to sending American astronauts to Mars. Competition, innovation and technology – it’s the American way. It’s helping us to Launch America.
This week, I embarked on a visit to Japan for discussions with a variety of senior Japanese government officials about our mutual interest in space exploration. I will also visit NASA’s outstanding partners at JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
With more than 30 active agreements in place, NASA and JAXA have one of the strongest, most comprehensive and longest lasting space bilateral relationships of any two nations in the world. One of the greatest illustrations of this partnership is the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour (about 28,000 kph) with six astronauts on board as I write this!
NASA’s Journey to Mars is taking shape aboard the orbiting laboratory, where astronauts from different countries are working together to advance research and technology that will allow future astronauts to travel deeper into space, at the very same time we create jobs and improve our quality of life here on Earth.
Japan and the United States are working together aboard the Space Station with many other international partners – and we will be for the foreseeable future. Today, Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi and American astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins are living and working together with their Russian crewmates at the cutting edge of innovation, science and discovery. Their research ‘Off the Earth, For the Earth’ promises to deepen understanding and expand human progress around such areas as medicine, biology, technology, Earth science, material production and communications – and that’s just the short list!
Because leaders in both the U.S. and Japan have chosen to extend our Space Station participation through at least 2024, the promise and potential progress that comes out of this research will continue for years to come. In the more immediate future, the research benefitting all of humanity will be bolstered by cargo delivered to station aboard Japan’s upcoming HTV-6 mission (which, as was announced recently, is set to launch in October of this year).
As we consider the bright future of our partnership, I’m very much looking forward to joining our friends at JAXA this week for a ceremony to officially open a control room for Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module on ISS.
Kibo is, appropriately, a Japanese word meaning “hope,” and I believe that “hope” is an excellent description of the research that’s being conducted aboard the International Space Station and the cooperation that goes into it.
President Obama once said that “hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”
The International Space Station is the embodiment of this sort of hope and effort. Consider this: more than 220 human beings from 18 countries have visited the International Space Station; tens of thousands of people have been involved in its construction and operation; and people from dozens of countries have had their research and experiments flown aboard it.
As we look forward to an exciting future exploring space, I am also enthusiastic about advances the U.S. is making in airspace travel a little closer to Earth. We are in the midst of an incredible moment in the history of aeronautics. With President Obama proposing an historic investment in green aviation, we have an opportunity to make air travel cleaner, greener, safer and quieter – even as our skies grow more crowded and aircraft fly faster.
One of the more important areas of NASA aeronautics research is air traffic management. Our country’s skies will have to absorb an estimated four billion more passengers over the next several decades and it’s essential that we do this without compromising the safety of our skies.
We in the United States are not the only country with an interest in building a more efficient air traffic management system. International commerce depends on air transportation and it is imperative that we work together with partner countries around the world to maximize human resources and investment for the benefit of all humanity.
With this in mind, after my visit to Japan I plan to travel to China to discuss areas of mutual interest in aviation research between NASA and the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment (CAE). This will be part of ongoing conversations that began in November of 2014 and have continued through a NASA-CAE workshop in Beijing that was held in August 2015.
Taken together, our partnerships around the world continue to instill optimism – and inspire hope – about the future of space exploration, aeronautics and our ability to write our own destiny – together.