Portrait of NASA Administrator Michael Griffin
Michael D. Griffin

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

In our increasingly competitive global economy, strategic U.S. leadership in aeronautics research and space exploration is a critical component of America’s strength and vitality.

Through our focused work, the men and women of NASA are dedicated to expanding civilization’s exploration and scientific horizons in the air and in space and to bringing the inner solar system into our sphere of commerce. I am proud to lead an agency that draws on the exploration imperative found in the human soul to stoke the fires of inspiration and innovation in our citizenry.

The vibrancy of NASA’s work can be seen in our current activities, ongoing plans for the future, and international recognition of our achievements.

In 2007, during the space shuttle’s 25th anniversary year, three shuttle missions advanced construction work on the International Space Station, adding significantly to the capabilities of this orbiting research outpost and setting the stage for continued expansion of the station’s size and research capabilities. We also announced plans for a fifth shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, now slated for 2008, to extend and improve the telescope’s capabilities through 2013.

Looking forward, NASA took major steps to realize the national goal of establishing a permanent base on the lunar surface by 2024 in cooperation with many space-faring nations. In August 2006, we selected a prime contractor to build the Orion crew exploration vehicle, America’s next human-rated spacewcraft, to be operational by 2015. Last fall, our next-generation launch vehicle, the Ares I, successfully completed its systems requirement review. In December, NASA unveiled an initial Global Exploration Strategy and lunar architecture which details how sustained lunar exploration will advance science, commerce, and technology development and help us prepare for later journeys to Mars and other destinations.

Throughout the year, NASA orbiting spacecraft and rovers continued to expand our understanding of the Red Planet and lay the groundwork for future surface missions. Also, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto and twin STEREO spacecraft that produce three-dimensional views of the Sun; recovered comet and interstellar dust particles from the successful Stardust mission; and through our Cassini mission, possibly discovered evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Closer to home, NASA’s Earth science team launched the CloudSat and CALIPSO spacecraft to study the role that clouds and aerosols play in regulating Earth’s weather, climate, and air quality. And we restructured our aeronautics research portfolio to return to long-term, cutting-edge, fundamental research required to enable the next generation air transportation system and to support our future space missions.

Finally, the entire NASA community cheered the awarding in December of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics to Dr. John C. Mather, senior astrophysicist and senior project scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Mather, the first NASA civil-servant employee to win the Nobel Prize, was honored along with George Smoot of the University of California at Berkeley for the “discovery of the black body form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation.” Mather coordinated the science work of NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer satellite, launched in 1989, which helped validate the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

Fundamental scientific accomplishments like those of Dr. Mather and his colleagues remind us that there is no absolute requirement that NASA produce tangible, practical benefits for the public in everything we do. It is a happy byproduct of our work, however, that many of NASA’s missions and activities power innovation that creates new jobs, new markets, and new technologies. Consistent with our Agency’s charter, Spinoff 2007 highlights NASA’s work to “research, develop, verify, and transfer advanced aeronautics, space, and related technologies.” Among the useful NASA-derived technologies featured in Spinoff 2007 already receiving prominent use in the commercial and public sectors are:

  • A revolutionary method that makes the manufacture of carbon nanotubes safer and less expensive for researchers now creating next-generation electronics.

  • NASA-developed air traffic management software tools that are helping to streamline the flow of commercial flights across the entire National Airspace System.

  • A new, commercial, all-natural nutritional fat replacement and flavor enhancement product designed with help from NASA’s astronaut nutrition program that is now making everyday foods healthier.

I often compare our Nation’s investment in space as being equivalent to an individual using a small proportion of their retirement account for a stock that contains the prospect of high risk and high reward. Great nations such as the United States can afford to keep their eyes on the heavens and invest in their long-term future, even as they address the public’s more day-to-day concerns. From such vision emanates the hope of continued leaps of progress that will significantly enhance our material lives and lift our collective spirits.

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