NASA's Moon to Mars Plans, Artemis Lunar Program Gets Fast Tracked in 2019

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- In 2019, NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the agency's Apollo 11 Moon landing, the most historic moment in space exploration, while also making significant progress toward putting the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program.

Through America's Moon to Mars exploration approach, Artemis gained bipartisan support this year among members of Congress, the U.S aerospace industry, as well as with international partners, including Canada, Australia, and Japan, and member states of the European Space Agency.

"2019 will be remembered as the year the Artemis program really became a reality with real spaceflight hardware built, U.S. commercial and international partnerships standing behind it, and hardworking teams across NASA and the world coming together like never before to quickly and sustainably explore the Moon and use what we learn there to enable humanity's next giant leap - sending astronauts to Mars," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "While the Artemis program came into sharp focus this year, NASA continued to show what leading in space exploration is all about, whether it was kicking off 2019 with New Horizons' historic Kuiper Belt object flyby, conducting the first all-woman spacewalk outside the International Space Station, or developing the first flying robotic explorer to study Saturn's moon Titan. And wait until you see what we do in 2020!"

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer received a successful clean audit in 2019 - the ninth consecutive clean financial audit opinion for the agency. And for the eighth year in a row, NASA retained its standing as the number one large agency in the Best Places to Work in Government rankings, published by the Partnership for Public Service.

"Throughout this year, as I have visited each of our centers, I have personally witnessed their unparalleled commitment to accomplishing our mission. The daily devotion of our employees makes them well deserving of this award," Bridenstine said. "I am honored to lead such a dedicated team. They are what makes NASA the Best Place to Work in Government."

Moon to Mars

This year, NASA officially named the new lunar exploration program Artemis, for the goddess of the Moon and twin sister of Apollo. Under Artemis, NASA will send new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, accelerate plans to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024, and establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028.

Science and technology progress in Artemis includes:

    --  Two sets of Moon rocks, sealed since they were collected by Apollo
        astronauts and returned to Earth nearly 50 years ago, were opened for
    --  NASA announced it will send a new mobile robot, VIPER, to the lunar
        South Pole to scout and sample ice in the region.
    --  Twelve new lunar science and technology investigations were selected in
        February and July, 24 total, to fly on early Commercial Lunar Payload
        Services (CLPS) flights to the Moon.
    --  The agency awarded initial surface task orders for commercial Moon
    --  New CLPS contracts were awarded to five companies to support the next
        generation of lunar landers that can land heavier payloads on the
        surface of the Moon. A total of 14 companies now are eligible to bid on
        these deliveries.
    --  NASA received a record-breaking 10,932,295 names to travel to Mars on
        the agency's upcoming Mars 2020 mission.
    --  Engineers attached the Mars Helicopter to the Mars 2020 rover. After the
        rover lands at the Jezero Crater, the helicopter will be deployed to
        conduct test flights.
    --  The international mission team for NASA's Interior Exploration using
        Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander
        continues to assess the lander's heat probe, while the lander's
        seismometer collects data on quakes.
    --  NASA selected 14 Tipping Point and 19 Announcement of Collaboration
        Opportunity proposals from U.S. companies that focus on technologies and
        capabilities needed for a sustainable presence on the Moon by 2028.
    --  The agency partnered with Advanced Space to develop and build a
        pathfinder CubeSat destined for the same lunar orbit planned for NASA's
        lunar Gateway.
    --  The Sample Analysis at Mars chemistry lab on NASA's Curiosity rover
        measured seasonal methane and oxygen spikes in Mar's atmosphere.
    --  Technology sensors and an in-situ resource utilization experiment were
        installed on the Mars 2020 entry vehicle and rover.

NASA continues to advance development of our Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, which will send astronauts to deep space.

    --  NASA demonstrated that Orion's launch abort system can pull astronauts
        to safety if an emergency occurs during launch, and assembled the
        spacecraft for the first Artemis mission, Artemis I. It was delivered to
        Ohio for final testing for the extreme environment of space before it's
        returned to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch
    --  On the SLS rocket for the first Artemis mission, engineers completed the
        segments for the boosters and assembled the core stage. The core stage
        next will ship to NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis,
        Mississippi, for a Green Run test of the integrated propulsion system
        before joining Orion at Kennedy for stacking.
    --  Teams at Kennedy conducted a series of water flow tests of the sound
        suppression system at the launch pad and tested the flow of cryogenic
        fluids through the pad's infrastructure - the systems that will send
        liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to the rocket at the time of launch.
    --  The launch team at Kennedy held its first formal training simulation for
        Artemis  I, and flight controllers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in
        Houston simulated part of Orion's uncrewed flight to the Moon.

Work also began on hardware for Artemis II, the first SLS/Orion test flight with astronauts aboard. NASA and Northrop Grumman technicians applied insulation to the final booster motor segment of SLS and completed casting of all 10 booster motor segments. The agency also issued a request for proposals from U.S. small satellite developers to fly their missions as secondary payloads on Artemis II.

Development of the key pieces of NASA's lunar architecture is underway:

    --  NASA awarded a contract for the first element of the Gateway, which will
        provide power, propulsion, and communications to the lunar outpost. The
        new Gateway Program is based out of Johnson.
    --  Negotiations are underway for the Gateway's habitation and logistics
        outpost (HALO) module, and awards are expected in the future for
        logistics supply services.
    --  NASA announced astronaut spacesuit designs for the Artemis III mission,
        which will include the return of astronauts to the Moon's surface. The
        agency is asking industry for input on production for Artemis IV
        missions and beyond.
    --  The agency also announced its Marshall Space Flight Center in
        Huntsville, Alabama, will manage its new Human Landing System Program
        and asked American companies to design, develop, and demonstrate a human

NASA's InSight lander captured audio of the first likely quake on Mars on April 6.

The agency also bid farewell to a veteran Martian science rover on Feb. 13 and captured audio of the first likely quake on Mars. The Mars Opportunity Rover mission stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel less than 3,300 feet (1,000 meters), Opportunity far surpassed all expectations, exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, traveling more than 28 miles (45 kilometers), and returning more than 217,000 images.

Solar System and Beyond

It was a great year for astrobiology and the agency's search for life in the universe:

    --  Scientists synthesized a molecular DNA-like system in NASA-funded
        research - a feat that suggests there could be an alternative to
        DNA-based life as we know it.
    --  NASA selected Dragonfly, a rotocraft-lander that will survey locations
        on Saturn's moon Titan for prebiotic chemical processes common on Titan
        and Earth.

Other highlights this year include:

    --  On New Year's Day 2019, NASA's New Horizons mission flew by the most
        distant object ever visited by a spacecraft and became the first to
        directly explore an object that holds remnants from the birth of our
        solar system.
    --  NASA launched the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) spacecraft and
        announced the first results from the agency's Parker Solar Probe
    --  Significant progress was made on the agency's James Webb Space
        Telescope. The two halves of Webb were assembled into one observatory
        and the sunshield passed a critical test.
    --  After a navigation maneuver to keep NASA's Juno mission out of an
        eclipse that could have frozen the solar powered spacecraft, it
        discovered a new cyclone at Jupiter's south pole. The cyclone is the
        size of Texas, small by Jupiter standards.
    --  NASA's next Mars rover, Mars 2020, passed its first driving test as it
        rolled forward and backward and pirouetted in a clean room at NASA's Jet
        Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Dec. 17. The next time
        the rover drives, it will be rolling over Martian soil.
    --  The Europa Clipper mission's next phase was confirmed with a decision in
        August to allow the mission to progress to completion of final design,
        followed by the construction and testing of the entire spacecraft and
        science payload.
    --  NASA's Chandra, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NUSTAR), Fermi,
        Swift, and Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescopes
        contributed to the first direct imaging of a black hole. Chandra, which
        celebrated its 20th anniversary, separately spotted three black holes on
        a collision course.
    --  The agency's Hubble Space Telescope observed the first confirmed
        interstellar comet and found water vapor on a habitable-zone exoplanet
        for the first time.
    --  The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) completed its first
        year of science, capturing a panorama of the southern sky and finding 29
        confirmed planets and more than 1,000 planet candidates. TESS also
        captured a rare astrophysical event - a black hole tearing apart a star.
    --  The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected
        the universe's first type of molecule, helium hydride.
    --  The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of
        Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission was selected to help us
        understand how our universe evolved and to search our galaxy for the
        ingredients for life.
    --  NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) was cleared for the
        next development phase: finalizing the spacecraft's design.
    --  The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security -
        Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex) made the first-ever close-up observations
        of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid's surface, and the mission
        team announced the site on the asteroid Bennu where the mission will
        collect samples that will be returned to Earth in 2023.

Humans in Space

NASA astronauts Anne McClain, Nick Hague, Christina Koch, Andrew Morgan, and Jessica Meir of the 2013 astronaut class all participated in their first spaceflight missions to the International Space Station. Each also conducted their first spacewalks, including the first all-woman spacewalk with Meir and Koch.

The space station is facilitating a strong commercial market in low-Earth orbit for research, technology development, and crew and cargo transportation, and remains the sole space-based proving ground and stepping stone for the Artemis program. In 2019:

    --  SpaceX's Crew Dragon returned to Earth after a five-day demonstration
        mission to the space station for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX
        now is preparing for an in-flight abort test in advance of its first
        flight with astronauts.
    --  NASA and Boeing are collecting data and lessons learned from the
        uncrewed flight test of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, which launched and
        landed successfully, but was unable to dock with the space station.
        Boeing successfully completed a key safety milestone in November with a
        test of its abort system.
    --  NASA astronauts assigned to the first Commercial Crew Program flights
        trained extensively in preparation for their flight tests on Crew Dragon
        and Starliner.
    --  Koch and Morgan are participating in extended missions to provide
        further opportunities to observe the effects of long-duration space
        travel. On Dec. 28, Koch will set a record for the longest single
        spaceflight by a woman.
    --  Results from NASA's landmark Twins Study were published, revealing the
        resilience of the human body in space.
    --  NASA announced a five-point plan to open the space station to U.S.
        industry to accelerate a thriving commercial economy in low-Earth orbit.
    --  Five commercial cargo missions delivered more than 32,000 pounds of
        science investigations, tools, and critical supplies to the space
        station and returned more than 10,800 pounds of investigations and
        equipment to researchers on Earth.
    --  Commercial resupply missions enabled the crew to support more than 100
        new U.S. science investigations to advance human space exploration and
        conduct research for the U.S. National Laboratory to benefit life on
    --  Research conducted on station included experiments to better understand:
        human adaptations to spaceflight; how fluid shifts affect an astronaut's
        blood flow and regolith behaves in microgravity; black holes and quantum
        mechanics; and how best to grow and harvest vegetables in space and
        measure atmospheric carbon dioxide.
    --  Also tested on the space station was a free-flying robot system, a new
        air quality monitoring system, a vest designed to protect astronauts
        from radiation, a new medical research technology called tissue chips,
        and a virtual reality camera.
    --  NASA astronauts participated in 10 spacewalks to install a new docking
        port for commercial crew spacecraft, upgrade the station's power system,
        and repair an instrument that is searching for dark matter, anti-matter,
        and dark energy.


NASA's aeronautics team reached several major milestones in its efforts to enable commercial supersonic air travel over land.

    --  NASA tested the eXternal Vision System, a forward-facing camera and
        display system that lets the pilot see the airspace in front of him or
        her, for the X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST).
    --  NASA deployed CarpetDiem along a 30-mile-stretch of the Mojave Desert in
        California to test a specially-configured microphone array that will be
        used when the X-59 makes a series of acoustic validation flights in
    --  The X-59 project team completed its critical design review and the
        aircraft was cleared in December for final assembly and systems

NASA's research into electric-powered flight with the X-57 Maxwell made headlines throughout the year.

    --  NASA devised a custom-designed skin around the aircraft's motor
        electronics to cool them without changing the aircraft's shape or
    --  NASA and General Electric announced a $12 million partnership to further
        explore electrified aircraft propulsion and received the X-57's Mod II
        aircraft, paving the way for NASA engineers to put the aircraft through
        ground, taxi and flight tests.

Another major aeronautics focus was NASA's ongoing work in Urban Air Mobility - a safe and efficient system for passenger and cargo air transportation.

    --  NASA selected two organizations to host the final phase of its four-year
        series of technical demonstrations involving small Unmanned Aircraft
        Systems (UAS), or drones, in Reno, Nevada, and Corpus Christi, Texas.
    --  NASA and Uber partnered on computer modeling and simulation of airspace
        management for small aircraft in crowded city environments. NASA also
        launched its solicitation for companies to participate in the Urban Air
        Mobility Grand Challenge.

Continuing other avenues of research in aviation technology, the agency:

    --  signed contracts with three industry partners to demonstrate the use of
        systems for the safe operation of drones in the national airspace;
    --  successfully tested an advanced photographic technology that captured
        the first-ever images of the interaction of shockwaves from two
        supersonic aircraft in flight;
    --  demonstrated a new aircraft wing using advanced carbon fiber composites
        that can flex in flight to maximize aerodynamic efficiency;
    --  brought onboard its newest world-class research facility, the NASA
        Electric Aircraft Testbed (NEAT), in Sandusky, Ohio, which provides a
        reconfigurable research platform capable of accommodating power systems
        for large passenger airplanes with megawatts of power;
    --  demonstrated air traffic management tools that manage the movement of
        aircraft from an airport gate to a spot in the sky after takeoff; and,
    --  installed onto a flying testbed small fins made from shape memory alloys
        to help control airflow during flight.

Space Technology

As NASA embarked on the next era of exploration in 2019, the agency continued to advance technologies needed for a sustainable human presence on the Moon and future human missions to Mars.

    --  Two NASA technology demonstrations were launched to improve how
        spacecraft travel and navigate. The Green Propellant Infusion Mission is
        successfully demonstrating a low-toxin propellant and NASA's Deep Space
        Atomic Clock is close to determining how well our clock keeps time, down
        to the nanosecond.
    --  A biology experiment on the space station is testing a method of using
        microorganisms to produce nutrients usually found in vegetables.
    --  Google, in partnership with NASA and Oak Ridge National Laboratory,
        achieved quantum supremacy by demonstrating the ability to compute in
        seconds what would take the largest and most advanced supercomputers
        thousands of years.
    --  NASA demonstrated the first coordinated maneuver between two CubeSats in
        low-Earth orbit, and two CubeSats teamed up for a laser communications
        pointing experiment.
    --  NASA awarded a contract to Made In Space to 3D print and assemble
        spacecraft parts in low-Earth orbit.
    --  NASA helped test a commercial terrain-relative navigation system for
        precise lunar landings and dozens of other technologies aboard
        suborbital rockets, spacecraft, planes and balloons.
    --  The 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge wrapped up after 30 hours of 3D
        printing prototype planetary habitats. College students practiced
        drilling for water on the Moon and Mars using simulated soil and ice
    --  NASA established two new space technology research institutes to study
        smart habitats. NASA-funded university faculty and graduate students
        researched technologies for robot explorers, spacecraft temperature
        control and more.
    --  Two NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts aimed at exploring lunar craters
        and mining asteroids received another round of NASA funding
    --  The agency licensed to commercial companies NASA technologies and
        software that can be used to create products and solutions to benefit
        people everywhere.
    --  NASA awarded nearly $180 million, in May, June and November, to hundreds
        of U.S. small businesses to advance capabilities in aeronautics and


NASA continued to use its perspective of Earth from space to improve lives and revolutionize our understanding of how our planet is changing.

    --  After powerful Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas in September, NASA
        assisted emergency response organizations by creating detailed damage
        assessment and flood maps based on satellite data.
    --  The largest migration of small sea creatures on the planet was studied
        globally for the first time using the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared
        Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) satellite.
    --  A study showed that the increasing dryness of the atmosphere above the
        Amazon rainforest is primarily the result of human activities and is
        increasing the demand for water and leaving ecosystems vulnerable to
        fires and drought.
    --  A new NASA laser instrument on the space station began collecting data
        to create detailed 3D maps of Earth's forests and topography.

STEM Engagement

NASA provided more than $32 million in financial support to more than 8,000 students participating in internships and fellowships through its: Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP); Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR); Space Grant Project; and Next Gen STEM. Nearly 40% of the opportunities were filled by women, and 30% went to racial or ethnic minorities.

Participating in NASA's Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Team (Micro-g NExT) program, Team CERO, from Lone Star College-CyFair in Cypress, Texas, became the first team to have their tool sent to the International Space Station, where it was used during a spacewalk on Nov. 22 to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer.

NASA also engaged students, educators and the public in STEM through a series of public events including:

    --  Future of Space, a live television event for college students to learn
        more about NASA's newest mission, Artemis and hear from NASA's
    --  Forward to the Moon, a 30-minute show to accompany the Apollo 50th live
        broadcast to engage the public in STEM activities
    --  Space and STEM: Where do you fit in?, a show for college students
        participating at 2019 International Astronautical Congress

Public Engagement

NASA is dedicated to engaging the public in the excitement, accomplishments and opportunities available only through the nation's space program. The agency hosted and participated in events across the country marking the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo Moon landing in July 1969, including two events in Washington: a concert on July 20 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts co-hosted by former Myth Busters host Adam Savage, and a three-day festival on the National Mall that featured exhibits and talks and had more than 50,000 attendees.

Other public events included:

    --  NASA Day of Remembrance, attended by Vice President Mike Pence
    --  Earth Day celebration at Union Station in Washington
    --  The agency's Independent Verification and Validation Facility in
        Fairmont, West Virginia, was renamed in honor of West Virginia native
        and NASA "human computer" Katherine Johnson.
    --  Hidden Figures Way dedication at NASA Headquarters in Washington
    --  Events leading up to the premier of the movie Ad Astra, including a
        conversation between astronauts on the International Space Station and
        actor Brad Pitt
    --  Star Wars actors Kelly Marie Tran and Naomi Ackie visited Johnson Space
        Center, where they met with astronauts and learned about training to
        live and work in space. Tran also narrated a new video detailing how
        we'll go to the Moon with our Artemis program.
    --  Ariana Grande, Blake Griffin, and Karol G also visited Johnson to learn
        more about human space flight.
    --  The cast of Lost in Space toured NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in
        Greenbelt, Maryland.
    --  Interactions on social media with celebrities such as Barbara Streisand,
        Billie Jean King, Priyanka Chopra, Ava DuVernay, Misha Collins, David
        Bowie, Alicia Keys, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Tony Hawke, Tig
        Notaro, and others.

NASA had a significant exhibit presence at two high-profile annual space policy conferences: Space Symposium, which brought together space industry leaders and entrepreneurs from around the globe to discuss the current and future state of space exploration; and the International Astronautical Congress, hosted this year by NASA and during which more than 6,660 people visited the agency's exhibit.

NASA now has more than 219.7 million social media followers - up from 187 million in 2018. In addition to increasing engagement on various platforms, the agency hosted 10 NASA Social events, bringing together nearly 500 followers for unique, in-person experiences of exploration and discovery. The agency's social media activity was honored in April with two Webby Awards and two People's Voice awards.

The agency's website received its 11th People's Voice Award in the Government & Civil Innovation category. The busiest day for the website was April 10, when NASA shared a black hole image from the National Science Foundation, which had 1.7 million visits. The second-busiest day, with 1.6 million visits, was May 21, when NASA invited to the public to send their names to Mars on the Mars 2020 rover.

The agency launched two new mediums to communicate with the public. In March, NASA debuted a weekly email newsletter that already has more than 1.1 million subscribers. In September, NASA TV launched a new video series called #AskNASA, in which agency experts answer questions from the public about its incredible mission.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences recognized NASA's engagement efforts in September with two Emmy Awards for its coverage of the landing on Mars of NASA's InSight mission and the agency's first test of a spacecraft that will help bring crewed launches to the International Space Station back to U.S. soil.

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