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New Horizons in Space Exploration
By Damon Wells
Thank you for your petition and for your interest in our Nation's human space exploration activities. Space exploration has a unique ability to drive technological innovation and scientific discovery, while also helping to satisfy our natural curiosity about what lies around the next celestial "bend." These programs indeed make a difference, and I have been fortunate to have the chance to help move them forward during my time at the White House.
With regard to your proposal, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has a vital mission of protecting the interests and security of the United States. Each year, careful consideration goes into identifying the appropriate funding levels to support that mission, with final appropriations determined by the U.S. Congress. It is important to recognize, moreover, that the DOD supports a wide range of space-related activities that complement and strengthen the U.S. civilian space program, including space launch vehicles that carry payloads into orbit, communications satellites, the Global Positioning System, and space technology research and development programs. These capabilities are important to our national security while also yielding benefits for NASA, other U.S. civil space efforts, commercial space activities, and the general public.
The space exploration arena has been an area of emphasis for the Obama Administration from the outset, and there are new and ground-breaking initiatives already underway. In particular, the Administration has worked with Congress to develop a new approach for NASA's human and robotic exploration activities that includes:
- Extending the International Space Station program -- which has been continuously crewed since November, 2000 -- until at least 2020, thus enabling our astronauts to continue conducting research and testing new technologies on this unique orbiting outpost;
- Acquiring commercial crew and cargo transportation services to the Space Station through a fundamentally new type of partnership with U.S. industry, thereby increasing cost-effectiveness and innovation in the development of these capabilities;
- Investing in the development of a new heavy lift launch vehicle and crew capsule to support human exploration of deep space; and
- Advancing the development of new technologies that can both expand the reach and lower the cost of our human space exploration efforts.
All of this will be undertaken while also supporting robust programs in Earth and space science that are important to understanding our planetary home and unlocking the mysteries of our Solar System and the Universe beyond.
These initiatives represent a significant step forward in terms of enhancing the long-term affordability and sustainability of space exploration, increasing the number of possible destinations, and rethinking how we conduct some of these activities. For example, the commercial crew program is intended to leverage existing and planned private-sector launch capabilities in addressing the national need for a U.S. crew launch capability to the International Space Station. This will enable a more cost-effective approach with the potential to spur innovation, entrepreneurship, and high-tech job creation. At the same time, NASA's heavy lift rocket program will produce America's most powerful rocket since the Saturn V vehicle that carried Apollo astronauts to the Moon, enabling journeys to deep space destinations never before visited. Taken as a whole, I would say that this is an exciting and innovative exploration program – one that is capable of achieving meaningful goals, while being mindful of the Nation's current fiscal challenges.
Thank you again for your interest and I hope that you will continue to be a dedicated supporter of our Nation's space exploration activities in the years and decades ahead.
Damon Wells is the Assistant Director for Space and Aeronautics at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House.