Obama Administration Highlights Space Achievements in Exit Memo

Astronaut Cady Coleman speaks to a group of fifty fourth-grade Girl Scouts about her time in space, at the first-ever White House Campout, hosted by the First Lady as part of the Let's Move! Outside initiative on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. NASA also provided telescopes and led a stargazing activity. {Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Astronaut Cady Coleman speaks to a group of fifty fourth-grade Girl Scouts about her time in space, at the first-ever White House Campout, hosted by the First Lady as part of the Let’s Move! Outside initiative on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. NASA also provided telescopes and led a stargazing activity. {Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has released an exit memo highlighting the Obama Administration’s achievements in science and technology.  Excerpts covering achievements in space follows.

Office of Science and Technology Policy
Executive Office of the President

Dr. John P. Holdren
Assistant to the President for Science and
Technology and Director

Megan Smith
Assistant to the President and United States Chief
Technology Officer

Cabinet Exit Memo | January 5, 2017
[Full Exit Memo — PDF]

Record of Progress on Science, Technology, and Innovation

….In the nearly 8 years since, the full scope of the President’s science, technology, and innovation agenda has been sweeping, and is already setting the stage for new industries and continued innovation in the years ahead. For example, President Obama and his Administration:

(10) Fostered a burgeoning private space sector and increased capabilities for our journey to Mars, with the extension of the lifetime of the International Space Station’s (ISS) until at least 2024 through the Administration’s leadership, with American companies and NASA collaborating to deliver cargo to ISS, and with those companies on track to start ferrying astronauts to ISS within the next 2 years.

Interplanetary Frontiers

At the beginning of his Administration, President Obama set out a new vision for space exploration. In 2010, the Administration restructured the U.S. civil space program to look forward to bold new goals; to collaborate with, rather than compete with, American entrepreneurs; and to broaden participation and take advantage of new technologies being created at NASA and in America’s laboratories. These policies have fostered a burgeoning commercial-space sector that is creating new jobs and attracting venture capital. Looking ahead, frontiers in space exploration and space science include:

(17) Supporting our Journey to Mars and a robust U.S. commercial-space market. In April 2010, President Obama challenged the country to send American astronauts on a Journey to Mars in the 2030s. Continued development of advanced space technologies—including better life-support systems and efficient solar-powered electric propulsion systems—will be crucial to achieving President Obama’s vision for space exploration. NASA already has started collaborating with industry to build the space modules or “habitats”  in which U.S. astronauts will live and travel to Mars and other deep-space destinations. And in the coming years, the work NASA will do—in collaboration with private and international partners—to develop these deep-space habitats will help reduce the barriers to private companies that envision building their own space stations in Earth orbit or beyond. NASA will soon provide companies the opportunity to add their own modules and other capabilities to the International Space Station. As NASA shifts the focus of its human exploration program to deep space, America’s businesses will take a larger role in supporting space activities in Earth orbit.

(18) Driving advancements in space science. OSTP works with NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy (DOE) to ensure that Federally funded space-science activities comprise a robust portfolio of space-based missions, ground-based facilities, and research funding for astronomy, planetary science, and heliophysics.

The Kepler Space Observatory, which was launched in March 2009, has discovered more than 2,330 extrasolar planets and more than 2,400 additional planet candidates to-date. Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory, has been exploring Gale Crater on Mars since it landed in 2011, discovering evidence of an ancient stream bed, organic carbon in powdered rock samples, and methane in the Martian atmosphere. Construction of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)—funded by the United States through NSF with other international partners—was completed in 2011 with full science observations beginning in 2013.

In July 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto obtaining the first up-close images of the dwarf planet, and a year later, Juno arrived at Jupiter to begin collecting scientific data to understand the planet’s structure and formation. Looking ahead, progress on the James Webb Space Telescope—designed to be the premier space-based observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide—is on track and on budget to meet a 2018 launch date. NSF and DOE, in collaboration with other partners, are supporting the development of the ground-based Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which expects to see first light in 2019.

(19) Enhancing prediction of and preparedness for space hazards. OSTP and Federal agencies are identifying actions to extend and enhance prediction and preparedness for potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs) and define an approach for establishing reference NEO Earth-impact missions that can help the United States and its international partners detect, track, and respond to the threat of collision by a NEO. OSTP also worked with NASA to develop NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, an effort focused on finding all asteroid threats to human populations and knowing what to do about them. NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission will, among other benefits, be used to demonstrate a promising asteroid-deflection technique called a gravity tractor. Also, in an effort to better plan for space weather hazards, OSTP led the development of the October 2015 National Space Weather Strategy and National Action Plan, and subsequently, President Obama signed an Executive Order in October 2016 to minimize the harm that space-weather events can cause across our Nation, save lives, and enhance national security. The called-for actions include identifying mitigation technologies, creating nationwide response and recovery plans and procedures, and improving prediction of space-weather events and their effects.

(20) Harnessing the small satellite revolution. A critical area for space-technology development is advancing the capability of small satellites (“smallsats”) and constellations of smallsats to support important commercial, civilian, and national-security applications. Potential applications include capturing continuously updated imagery of the entire planet and providing high-speed Internet connectivity to remote rural communities. Traditional large satellites typically cost hundreds of millions of dollars per satellite and often take years to build and launch. Smallsats sometimes can be delivered at a fraction of the cost and time of legacy satellite systems. Scientists and engineers can quickly test smallsat systems on orbit, allowing them to shorten the innovation cycle to devise new, better systems. The next Administration should consider working with OSTP, NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, and other Federal agencies to foster innovation in the development and use of smallsats.

  • therealdmt

    Well, the Obama administration deserves a LOT of credit for moving the country firmly towards relying on commercial systems for launch, cargo carrying, crew transportation, and even starting on habitats. Considering that in many ways we have gone *backwards* since Apollo largely due to costs, growing risk aversion, an entrenched bureaucracy and entrenched congressional support for existing programs, contractors and space centers, and considering that moving away from direct government control and towards the private sector mitigates these retarding factors, the Obama administration may be looked back on as the best administration for space since Kennedy. Commercial Space, though not perfect, promises a revolution over time, while continued big government programs promises more of the same.

    Unfortunately, Obama took about 2 years to get going on space (so, 2 wasted years) and then didn’t handle the transition well with congress to this new way of doing things. This has resulted in almost two different space programs being run simultaneously by NASA, the SLS/Orion direction and the Commercial Cargo/Crew direction. It’s a bit schizophrenic. And then there’s the slow-mo stillbirth of the asteroid redirect mission — which itself was the remnants of what was supposed to be Obama’s signature mission during his term, a mission to an asteroid. And the “been there, done that” dismissal of the moon. And the “Journey to Mars” BS that he’s had Bolden shouting for the better part of a decade.

    Finally, it’s worth mentioning the partial drying up of the pipeline for planetary science missions. This is, however, in large part due to the decision to persevere with the budget gobbling James Webb. A legitimate choice, especially considering congressional factors, but a tough one. On the other hand, NASA Earth science clearly benefited under Obama, though it looks like that might have been for nought.

    So, overall, a bit of a mixed bag, as is natural, but the opening up of the doors to commercial space will, I believe, be looked back on as a major turning point, the point the space economy began its escape from government control.

  • Paul451

    And the “been there, done that” dismissal of the moon.

    To be fair, he didn’t actually ever say that. He had one throw away line that “We’ve been there before, Buzz has been there”, aimed at Aldrin in the audience, who opposed return to the moon. It was just a shout-out.

    The “been there, done that” line came from hysterical Obama critics.

  • Kapitalist

    Why doesn’t he mention his fantastic idea to pick up a boulder from an near-Earth asteroid and put it in Lunar orbit where astronauts would visit it? Maybe because the asteroid science community dismissed it as meaningless? That NASA presented it as a non-scientific mission? Because it made the same mistake that NASA was criticized for after the Columbia disaster mission, that it would risk astronauts’ lives without it being worth it? Or because it was so humiliatingly silly and a pointless detour from the roadmap to Mars, that NASA actually didn’t do anything to even try to move this loser forward, but just waited for the next administration so that they can do the obvious: return to the Moon with their Moon rocket after 6-8 lost years.

    After a couple of years of spectacular robotic planetary missions, launched before Obama, the Planetary Society complains that the schedule is almost empty for many years to come now, because of lack of continuity and long-term planning.

    Obama supported commercial space only because the republican congress was against it. Like he scrubbed the Moon mission only because Bush was for it. Within weeks now all of his legacy will be wiped out, except commercial space, only neocons are against that and their candidate Hillary Clinton lost. Democrats will lose 8 senates in 2018 if they take the fight to try to save Obamacare, giving (R) 60% majority.

  • MzUnGu

    COTS was awarded to SpaceX in 2006, 3 years B4 Obama. Think u got Bush to Thank for starting COTS.