This year NASA celebrates its 50th anniversary, an event shared by the global space community as well as people around the world who have been touched by its great achievements. The United States has been a spacefaring nation for five decades and nothing symbolizes that capability better than the NASA brand. During this time other nations also have sought their own ventures in space, and young people have been inspired to become astronauts, engineers, mathematicians and rocket scientists. Now NASA has embarked on a bold new path to further the human presence in space as laid out in the U.S. Space Exploration Policy.
United Launch Alliance (ULA), starting with Boeing and Lockheed Martin and the many companies that enrich our heritage, has been a strong partner with NASA throughout this 50-year history. Our Atlas and Delta rockets have launched hundreds of NASA missions during those decades, enabling robotic lunar and planetary exploration, Earth observation and numerous other science advancements. Later this year, our Atlas 5 will launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission to map the Moon and test the lunar surface specifically to prepare for further human exploration.
We recently have seen headlines implying that proponents of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program are criticizing the Project Constellation architecture in an attempt to promote those rockets. In some reports, United Launch Alliance is included among this group when, in fact, we at ULA have not been party to such criticism. We strongly reject the agenda and activities of these others. United Launch Alliance and our team members have been strong supporters of Constellation, providing both hardware and engineering expertise toward its success.
The nation’s space policy requires a robust human exploration program and a strong national security capability, priorities that are not in conflict but are synergistic. The Ares launch vehicle and the EELV systems share a common industrial base, leverage key innovation investments and together will make the overall national space policy more robust.
The U.S. Air Force EELV program development is a huge success, delivering two reliable world-class systems on time and within budget and cutting launch costs by 25 percent and greater. “On-time delivery” and “within budget” are words not often associated with space projects. We at United Launch Alliance are supporting NASA by sharing our lessons learned and the gains from investments in technologies made by the private sector and the U.S. government.
The ultimate goals of our nation’s space exploration efforts should not be overlooked as NASA progresses through the development of new systems and architectures. We are inspired to keep moving forward with a clearly articulated vision, in this case return to the Moon and go on to Mars. In striving for this noble goal, we will help grow the industrial base, generate new technologies, inspire young people to study math and science, stimulate the economy and ensure that we have a human presence in space for the future. These benefits transcend any one company’s self interest and can be embraced by all.
United Launch Alliance’s vision is to be the best aerospace company we can be, offering mission success for our U.S. government customers, including NASA, as we are entrusted with precious payloads to place into orbit. We are firmly dedicated to supporting all of NASA’s efforts, and we encourage all who value the 50 years of achievement NASA has given us to get behind the U.S. Space Exploration Policy to ensure its success.
Michael Gass is president and chief executive officer of United Launch Alliance.