Director of NASA Stennis Space Center Highlights New Partnerships and Future of Space Exploration
HANCOCK COUNTY, Ms. – Dr. Rick Gilbrech, the director of the NASA Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi, wrote an op-ed about NASA's investment in the future of space exploration. His full letter is below.
"Perhaps you were posed this question as a young school student: Given the choice, would you rather receive $1 million in 30 days or a total amount that begins with one penny on Day One and doubles every day for 30 days?
The exercise teaches one to examine choices carefully, especially ones that offer choices between short-term and long-term effects. While $1 million in one month sounds good and certain, the better choice is the penny that doubles every day. You begin with one penny, double to two on the second day, to four on the third day and so on – until Day 30 when your doubling total reaches a mind-boggling $5,368,709.12.
Talk about a wise investment.
The exercise is a timely one when you think about NASA and the future of space exploration for this country. Everything in that arena seems to be “in planning” or “in the works.” It is only natural to wonder if real progress is being made.
Indeed, real progress is being made and concrete steps are being taken. NASA – and the nation – are moving forward, closer and closer to the day we will fly farther than ever into unexplored space. Just this week, NASA made a major announcement regarding its Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.
The agency declared nine companies eligible to provide delivery services to the Moon. Moving ahead, these companies will bid to fill a critical need in delivering necessary equipment and technologies to the Moon.
Actual missions are still to come, but the selection of the companies is a step forward, an investment in the future success of NASA’s plan to return to the Moon and continue on to such deep space destinations as Mars.
The United States first sent humans to the Moon almost 50 years ago. The golden anniversary of that mission actually comes this summer. On those early missions, astronauts stayed a few days on the lunar surface and returned.
This time, the country has been challenged to return to the Moon to stay. The Moon provides a place for NASA to develop and test technologies and capabilities needed for longer missions into space and offers economic potential for the nation. Just as 50 years ago, a return to the Moon also will serve as an inspirational and rallying point for the nation and the next generation of space explorers.
The Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative is a key to enabling the innovative and sustainable lunar exploration approach called for in the president’s Space Policy Directive-1. It fulfills the directive’s vision of NASA partnering with American companies in achieving long-term exploration and scientific study of the Moon.
In response to the vision, NASA plans to work with commercial partners to deliver and build a lunar orbiting platform called Gateway that will serve as a staging point for missions to the lunar surface and to deep space destinations such as Mars. Think of Gateway as a lunar space station where astronauts can develop technologies and capabilities needed for deep space exploration.
It is an ambitious plan – and focusing on the big picture to come is exciting. However, it is just as exciting to watch today’s progress toward it. As the nation’s largest propulsion test center, Stennis Space Center understands the importance of that progress.
It is the same path of progress followed in the Apollo Program when Stennis tested the Saturn V stages that later carried astronauts to the Moon. It is the same step-by-step work Stennis performed in testing the engines and propulsion system that powered 135 historic space shuttle missions from 1981 to 2011.
Now, we are working with commercial companies that already are – or will be – NASA’s partners in space. Stennis Space Center also is testing the Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines that will power the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will carry astronauts on deep space missions and help build Gateway. Soon, we will test the actual SLS rocket stages.
Each test represents a step, a move forward as new engine components are tested and additional data is gathered on RS-25 performance. Each test adds to the excitement, as does each space program announcement and each milestone met.
With every such action, anticipation grows and the envisioned day grows nearer when American astronauts launch from this country deeper than ever into space, to destinations no human has ever reached.
Return on investment has never looked better."
For more information about Stennis Space Center, visit: www.nasa.gov/centers/stennis/