Bolden Tours Rocket Factory, Hosts Town Hall
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (pictured) discussed the state of the nation's space agency, including science and human exploration, during his visit Thursday to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) production facility in Decatur, AL, where ULA manufactures both Atlas and Delta launch vehicles.
Joined by ULA President and CEO Michael Gass, Bolden viewed hardware being prepared for future NASA missions and hosted a town hall meeting with ULA's Alabama employees where he thanked them for their efforts in building the highly reliable Atlas and Delta rockets. ULA launches critical space capabilities for the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office and other commercial customers.
"The development of a commercial crew industry is critical for NASA because it will ensure we launch American astronauts from U.S. soil, fueled by American ingenuity, American companies and American workers," Bolden said on his NASA blog following the visit. "This new way of doing business will also reduce the cost of missions to low Earth orbit while allowing NASA to focus our resources on deep space missions back around the moon, to an asteroid and eventually to Mars."
Last year was a busy year for the NASA science community, and ULA was a critical team player enabling the agency to meet an aggressive launch campaign, including the Aquarius, Juno, Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) and NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) missions. The year was capped with the launch of the tremendously successful Mars Science Laboratory. "The capabilities NASA builds are precision scientific instruments that would take several years to re-create if a launch failed. ULA has successfully delivered each and every time," ULA's Gass said.
ULA supports the space launch needs for many of NASA's top priorities, including flight test of the Orion spacecraft, development of the upper stage for the Space Launch System (SLS), launch services support of two Commercial Crew Program teams (Boeing and Sierra Nevada) and launch of several science exploration missions. Bolden today was able to see rocket hardware for three upcoming NASA science missions, including TDRS-L, MAVEN and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2 carbon-counting science mission.
Bolden also viewed the beginnings of the Exploration Flight Test (EFT) rocket, which will serve as the test launch vehicle for the Orion crew capsule. The EFT launch will provide an opportunity to gain real flight experience with the Orion spacecraft. "We know the future is promising for the NASA and ULA partnership with many important missions on the horizon, including our Commercial Crew Program," said Gass. "ULA's support of NASA's human exploration efforts will ensure that the United States has safe, reliable means of delivering crew to the space station."
ULA's support of SLS also is promising. Working with The Boeing Company, ULA is providing the second stage for SLS, which is targeting 2017 to send humans beyond Earth orbit for the first time since 1972.