*This message includes revised remarks presented at the NASA 40th anniversary celebration, October 1, 1998.
When President Eisenhower and the Congress established NASA, they
did so with the boldest and most noble of missions: to pioneer
the future. We were told to explore new frontiers and enhance
life here on Earth. We were asked to instruct; we were expected
to inspire. Forty years later, thanks to an American public with
an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a relentless sense of
adventure, the NASA Team has delivered.
Think about this: Forty years ago, jet passenger service was a
novelty. Global communications meant a telephone line laid across
the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. When NASA was first getting
started, the only way to track hurricanes was to fly planes directly
over and into the storms. Our universe -- even the cosmic neighborhood
just above our atmosphere -- was a mystery. In 1958, sending
humans to the moon was pure science fiction.
But we dared to dream. We imagined what could be possible. And
then along with our partners in industry and academia, NASA went
In 1998, hundreds of millions of people ride American jets each
year and new designs for flight go higher, faster and farther
than ever before. Global space communications have helped create
a global community. Weather satellites can track phenomena, like
an El Niño condition, months in advance. There are still
many mysteries to be solved, but Voyager, Galileo, the Hubble
Space Telescope and other planetary and astronomy missions have
circled neighboring planets, giving us our first view of black
holes, and begun to peer back at the very beginning of our universe.
A space program that is forty years old has sent humans to the
Moon, robots to Mars, spacecraft to the furthest reaches of our
solar system, and soon will help lead construction of the International
Space Station. And for every step we take out there, we have
contributed to a better quality of life right here. That is true
whether it be one of thousands of ìspin-offî technologies
that has produced new products and services such as medical devices
to detect breast cancer earlier. That is true when a child who
looks up and knows that no longer is the sky the limit; it is
the stars and beyond.
NASA has had a great forty years, but what the American people
can be most proud of is this: when it comes to pioneering the
future, we are just getting started. What will always define
this aeronautics and space program -- and this country -- is our
firm belief that there will forever be something to be invented,
somewhere to be discovered, someplace to be visited. Rest assured,
NASA will do its best in the next forty years to find out just
what and where that will be.
At a recent Congressional hearing, I was invited to address NASA's
strategic goals for the next 40 years. It's hard to pass
up an opportunity to extend our reach beyond the near-term challenges
that consume most of us and take time to ponder a future we may
chose to create. As part of our celebration this afternoon, I'd
like to share with you the vision I presented at that hearing.
Keep in mind, I will be describing goals based on a vision that
I believe is achievable in the long-term. This vision is not
necessarily built on an mission profile that has been proposed
through the traditional five-year budgetary process and debate.
Allow me to fuel your imaginations by describing a vision that
I believe the NASA Team will be hard at work on three or four
decades from now. If we are able to align four critical factors
that include scientific and technical opportunities, a political
imperative, national economic impact, and national spirit, I believe
this vision can become reality.
It starts 25 years from now with a commercial flight from Tokyo
to a commercial spaceport near the Kennedy Space Center. Thanks
to revolutionary breakthroughs in advanced materials and coatings,
distributed intelligence and control systems, and advanced lightweight
structural concepts integrated with the next generation of air-breathing
jets and rockets, the flight was completed in a little more than
two hours. Not bad!
Because of a thick fog, there is practically zero visibility at
the spaceport. But that is not the concern that it was back in
1998. Now, high definition synthetic vision allows the pilot
to clearly see through even the heaviest of fog, or snow, or dust.
It allows the pilot to see better at night, as well. The vehicle
also has an advanced crew interface. We have been able to couple
humans and computers using natural, high order language to maximize
The pilot doesn't control the vehicle with buttons, keyboards,
and a joystick. Instead, the computer interface is an intelligent
interchange with total immersion in sight, sound and touch. The
computer is aided by waves from the pilotís brain. It
monitors brain waves to determine -- and even alert the pilot
-- when their attention might be lapsing.
For the entire two hour trip from Japan to Florida, the pilot
has full situational awareness of the vehicleís state of
health and the surroundings. Remote sensing satellites send signals
directly to the vehicle and gives the pilot real-time knowledge
about weather and terrain. GPS navigation systems, also readily
accessible by the pilot, give the precise position. Communication
links and onboard sensors determine where other vehicles and obstacles
are, and an onboard computer database tells the pilot and crew
where the other vehicles, obstacles and micro-disturbances in
the atmosphere will be.
Together, this gives the pilot real-time, on-board, unprecedented
air-traffic control. And all of this has made the flight safer
and faster than ever before. This flight used to take 17 hours,
not two, and the heavy fog would have had the plane circling or
looking for another airport to land. But not today. And that's
It is important because the Japanese Prime Minister is joining
members of the Administration and Congress, along with other heads
of state, to welcome the return of an international crew returning
from space. Deep space.
Their mission has been a great success. The crew just launched
an interstellar probe from where they were stationed for the past
few years: An international permanent outpost near Mars. The
installation conducts research and operational activities supported
by government and private sector investment.
By this time advanced telescopes have imaged countless Earth-like
planets beyond our solar system with a resolution high enough
to see geological features and biological processes at 600 trillion
miles. We've learned so much from watching our own planet
as well as studying the other planets in our solar system, especially
Mars and Europa, that we can now identity the fingerprints of
life. We know there's life on Earth. We will find out
if it is ubiquitous to the Universe.
Our space robots and telescopes, along with ground-based telescopes
have also provided invaluable information to study comets and
asteroids. This information will help us better understand their
characteristics and the likelihood of their impact with our planet.
Our investigation results have also been shared with other agencies
to develop potential planetary protection capabilities should
such an object pose a threat to Earth.
So the probe our astronauts launched is going to travel to, remotely
sense, and drop a mini robot on one of the planets we've
discovered around a near-by star. We think the planet has the
right conditions for life.
The remote sensing technology we're using has been working
closer to home for years. Around the world, remote sensing has
been used to help us with environment, climate, and weather
management -- not days in advance, but months and years.
NASA's Earth Science program has been working in partnership
with the private sector and other governments locally, regionally,
and globally to predict regional rainfall and drought on a seasonal,
an inter-annual, and ultimately a multi-decade basis.
Developing countries have been using remote sensing and other
technologies to help better manage the precious water resources
and agricultural products. For instance, this technology allows
people to measure the variability of a specific field and literally
ìfarm by the yard.î We know exactly which area needs
more irrigation and which area needs less. We know where there
is too much fertilizer and what part of the field isn't
getting enough. Same with pest control. We know exactly what
portions of the field are ready for harvest and what portions
are not. Space-based technologies are leading to better yields
and a better quality of life.
Ever since 1996, private sector investment in space has far surpassed
government expenditure on space activities. In addition to the
mature commercial industries related to telecommunications, remote
sensing, and launch services, new space-based industries have
emerged. The private sector has realized growth associated with
Lunar, Martian, and near-Earth asteroid opportunties, such as
manufacturing and mining of space resources, energy production
and transmission, and tourism.
Two members of the previously mentioned interplanetary crew had
started training in 2001 and flew on a vehicle called the Space
Shuttle. Experiments were conducted on the Shuttle that used
the unique vantage point of space to look back at and monitor
the Earth. We've come a long way since then.
Allow me come back to the present for a moment to focus on one
of our most critical requirements -- space transportation. After
forty years, it should be quite clear that we should never place
all our faith in a single launch system. The broad array of research
and exploration goals that we want to pursue will go no where
unless we have significantly more reliable and affordable transportation
It has taken us many years, but we are now in the position where
we are able to rely on one launch system while we make progress
on an advance capability. At times, this dual approach seems
to generate unnecessary competition among our own Team members.
Both the Space Shuttle and future reusable launch vehicles are
vital to the future of Americaís space program.
The Shuttle has been an important part of our history since
its first launched in 1981, and it continues to be the
workhorse for human space research and development. Before
it completes its service life all those associated with the Space
Shuttle program will have provided more than three decades of
distinguished service to the Agency. Until a proven
replacement is able to be rolled to the launch pad, this is the
vehicle that will guarantee human access to low-Earth orbit and
play a critical role in the assembly of the International Space
The Shuttle system requires the dedicated attention of hundreds
of civil servants and thousands of support contractors for operations
and maintenance. The members of the Space Shuttle Team have refined
and improved this vital transportation system throughout its operational
life. The Shuttle Team has compiled an enviable record of research
and operational accomplishments. Additionally, they remain the
benchmark for excellence for air and space safety.
After International Space Station is assembled and
during its operational phase, it is our intention
to gradually transfer the research, transportation,
and logistics support for low Earth obit operations to the private
sector. It is hoped that launch vehicles developed both with
and without government support will provide a higher degree of
reliability and operability that will provide dramatic reductions
in the cost and safety of access to space.
With less money directed toward shuttle operations, NASA will be able to direct more of its scarce resources towards long range research and development activities. Shuttle Team members will be retrained for new cutting edge assignments and no doubt many will seek responsibilities with the growing resuable launch vehicle industry.
Now, let's return to our vision.
Thanks to knowledge gained from our launch systems, the interstellar
probe launched by the international crew requires only a few controllers
during the entire cruise phase. That's because the probe
is a thinking, intelligent, and self-tasking spacecraft. It is
too far away for commands to be transmitted from a mission control
facility on Earth. At the speed of light, it would take months,
even years, to relay the simplest communications. Just think
how communications that go tens of trillions of miles will revolutionize
communications on Earth that only have to go thousands of miles!
And think of how advances in electronic propulsion might assist
the emerging space-based power industry!
This spacecraft can also learn and adapt as it travels. It has
real-time health monitoring capability because the decisions are
being made by the spacecraft itself. It is self-diagnostic and
self-repairing. In many ways it is just like the human body.
It has sensors and actuators. It reacts to stimuli. And it
has a distributed nervous system with intelligence that enables
the spacecraft to react and adjust according to changing environments.
This very same kind of technology is on display in the vehicle
that flew from Japan to Florida. The vehicle has what we call
ìsmart skin.î It senses excessive heating and air
loads and adjusts the shape of the craft for flow control and
separation and load alleviation to avoid possible damage. The
vehicle itself can take corrective action to change the lift and
optimize performance. That's critically important while
traveling at Mach 7 and at an altitude over 30 kilometers.
Back to our international crew of astronauts -- to ensure that
our exploration activities were enduring and not single mission
events, NASA placed an emphasis on facilities at strategic locations
in the Solar System. For example, the solar Libration Point 1,
is a stable location out of the Earth's gravity well that
provides an excellent, nearby, viewing platform for Sun-Earth
observations, astrobiological observations, and could serve as
a transportation node for refueling. Similar locations throughout
the Solar System will serve as nodes able to support research,
communications, transportation, and in-space operations. These
facilities will enable the conduct of a wider range of research,
development, and exploration opportunities.
The research scientists and engineers working at these outposts are also using ìsmartî technology. The crew are wearing body forming ìsmartî suits that incorporate biosensors to record and report on various health parameters. Biological sensors are also used to report directly to the spacecraft control systems on air and water quality. A special electronic nose gives real-time reporting of any potential chemical or biological contamination that could threaten the lives of the astronauts.
Because the flight back from the outpost takes a few months, and the mission itself lasts a few years, the spacecraft used by our astronauts must be an ecosystem in its own right. It has a life-support recycling system that uses algae and other small organisms to rid the air and water of impurities and to generate oxygen.
The spacecraft also has incredible new tools and the capacity
for virtual surgery. So if one of the astronauts gets sick, they
wonít have to worry about being so far away. The other
members of the crew will simply practice in virtual space and
then conduct the procedure themselves. Simply put, the spacecraft
Our crew returns safely. As soon as the official reception committee
congratulates the astronauts, the Japanese Prime Minister is informed
that he is needed back home for an emergency meeting. Even with
a two hour flight, the Prime Minister will not be able to get
to the meeting in time. However, like the heavy fog that existed
when the Prime Minister arrived, this is not an insurmountable
problem like it was back at the turn of the century.
The Prime Minister's seat on the vehicle becomes a virtual
office. Advances in information technology and networking capacity
allow for total immersion virtual presence. There is sight and
sound and touch, and if you need it, even smell. The Prime Minister
is briefed by his staff at home in a virtual environment. Then,
while still on the vehicle, he participates in the full Cabinet
The other members of the Cabinet are projected in such clarity,
it is like being there. You can't tell the difference.
It is seamless. And it is only fitting, because this same virtual
technology was used to simulate the entire development life cycle
of the flight vehicle before anyone cut a single piece of hardware.
Geographically distributed teams were able to be linked and development
progress could follow the sun, making significant cuts in development
cycle time and cost. It was used to simulate the harmonics of
the entire factory where the vehicle was built before pouring
any concrete or putting up any walls.
This virtual technology was incorporated into the training regime
for astronauts as they prepared for their mission. It also enabled
millions of people on Earth to join in the adventure of exploration
throughout the journey.
The significance of these strategic goals that I have proposed
here is about more than sending astronauts to outposts beyond
Earth orbit and bringing them back. It's about the United
States and other people and other countries working together to
erase the distinction between air and space travel. It's
about exploring new worlds in space and creating a new world here
Opening the space frontier cannot depend solely on incremental
evolutionary changes to the systems that enabled past achievements.
We must also look to bold, innovative and high risk revolutionary
leaps forward. What I have described here today is less science
fiction than the notion of sending a human to the Moon was back
on NASA's first day of operation in 1958. Researchers
at the Centers are already conducting research on each of the
technologies I have just described. And as exciting as the possibilities
are to imagine, the most startling developments will no doubt
occur in areas we have not even thought of yet.
Surgeons at Stanford University can now do reconstructive facial
surgery on a three dimensional virtual light table and show the
patient what they will be doing before they start.
Next year, a reusable launch vehicle will take off from the Mojave
Desert in southern California and land at Malstrom Air Force Base
in Montana -- 1,000 miles in under 25 minutes. It will hit Mach
15, yet the pilot will be on the ground in a virtual cockpit.
We are working on combustion experiments at 2000 degrees Centigrade
that will have a profound impact on energy usage throughout the
The solutions to all these technology challenges are not yet apparent.
Most are high risk and require long lead times for application.
But all offer opportunities for American industries to maintain
a competitive advantage in the global market place and unbelievable
possibilities for future generations to enjoy a future of security
There will always be those who will tell us why we should not
attempt to achieve this vision. We have heard the arguments before:
It can't be done. It's too risky. It's
too expensive. NASA is too much a bureaucracy to achieve such
an ambitious agenda. There are higher priorities that need to
be taken care of in the near-term.
I couldn't disagree more. For the past five years, we
have all been part of significant management reform and reinvention
activities that will lay the foundation for new ways of doing
business in the future. I know many of you have struggled with
these many changes and the increased demands placed upon you.
Change is never easy and it's even tougher when initiated
in response to fiscal constraints and a downsized workforce.
Time and again during the past five years, the NASA Team has risen
to the challenge where others may have given up. We have proven
to the Administration and Congress that while we might be middle-aged,
our best years are ahead, not behind us.
As difficult as it has been for us, think about what it must be
like for our colleagues in Russia who are working under extremely
trying circumstances. The entire nation is undergoing tremendous
growing pains in all sectors of their society, yet their aerospace
workforce is as dedicated to their dreams and aspirations as we
are. Despite the extra burden this has placed on many of you
who work closely with the Russians, I hope you will find the inner
strength to see your projects through.
In the meantime, you are all familiar with the management and
process reforms have been implemented. The goal of these reforms
is to allow you to spend more time on the work that drew you to
the Agency and less time on paperwork.
We have increased opportunities for innovative partnerships that
feature the sharing of cost and risk between the government and
private sector. We are investigating the best methods to transfer
functions that are not inherently governmental to the private
sector. We have begun to incorporate data buys from the private
sector to meet our science and technology mission goals and operational
It is my hope that within ten years, NASA will have transferred all low Earth orbit operations and infrastructure to the private sector. We will then be able to focus our human and financial resources on doing the things we all really want to do -- push the frontiers of science and advance technology.
I believe that the observance of our middle-age milestone provides
an excellent launch pad for superior achievements yet to come.
The excitement generated during the Agencyís youthful
sprints of the past has made way for sustained long-term marathons
in the future. We are learning from our mistakes and we are taking
corrective action to improve future missions.
If we are to maintain the trust and support of the public and
political establishment, we must continue to do what we say we're
going to do and honor our commitments to the Administration, Congress,
and the tax payers.
In the heat of the Cold War, NASA was created to demonstrate that
the values and freedom of democracy was a superior means to accomplish
bold and noble challenges. After four decades of achievement,
there should be no doubt that NASA has succeeded in fulfilling
the original expectations from the Administration and Congress.
We have demonstrated capabilities and expertise that are the
envy of the world and a model for other spacefaring nations.
As we enter the New Millennium and define new challenges for our
aeronautics and space aspirations, I call upon all members of
the NASA Team to pledge that you will ensure your contribution
will return high value for the publicís investment. We
will continue to set challenging goals and hold ourselves to even
higher standards of excellence. And many of you know me -- I'll
always be looking for that last five percent improvement from
each of you.
I would like to end with the words of a noted aerospace pioneer
who devoted a good deal of time to the question of how humanity
could benefit from the exploration and exploitation of space resources
and capabilities. Speaking to a gathering of navigation engineers
in Huntsville shortly after NASA's 10th anniversary, Dr.
Krafft Ehricke of North American Rockwell outlined his vision
for the future.
In closing his remarks, Dr. Ehricke suggested that ìPerhaps,
as we place the extraterrestrial domain into the service of all
people, we may be permitted to hope for the greatest benefit of
all: that the ugly, the bigoted, the hateful, the cheapness of
opportunism and all else that is small, narrow, contemptible and
repulsive becomes more apparent and far less tolerable from the
vantage point of the stars than it ever was from the perspective
of the mudhole. After all, should we not take a cue from the
fact that since the beginning, we have always placed our dreams
and aspirations among the stars?î
We at NASA anticipate the future with great expectations. To
bring the domain of space into the service of humanity. To do
our part to realize the dreams and aspirations of a great nation
in the decades to come.
A very happy birthday to the most outstanding organization in
Updated February 8, 2005
Steven J. Dick, NASA Chief Historian
Steve Garber, NASA History Web Curator
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