Thanks, Ed (Kruzins) for that introduction. I’m very pleased to be here with you and Meghan Clark and so many of the Center’s former directors to celebrate 50 years of this remarkable network. I’m especially glad that Charlie Bolden and Charles Elachi were able to make the trip to Australia to join us here today.
The Deep Space Network is truly an international effort. Not only are the antennae complexes located in three different countries, but European, Russian, Japanese, and Indian space missions have relied on the network as well. The DSN has taken us to Mercury and Venus. It has allowed us to go to interstellar space with Voyager. It has been the means for bringing us the amazing pictures – and, indirectly, the mischievous Twitter feed – that the Curiosity rover is sending back from Mars.
When the Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012 and began what was initially a two year mission to explore the surface of the planet, people across the globe were able to watch – and share – the excitement and joy of the entire mission control team. It also launched a thousand Internet memes, but the landing got more people talking about the space program. It got more people excited about the possibilities of what’s out there. And it got people thinking about the opportunities we might pursue in the future.
I recently went to an exhibition of ancient maps at the National Library in Canberra. And one of the things I found interesting in the very early maps was not what was on the page, but the large blank areas of paper and vellum interspersed here and there with a sliver of coastline or a smidgeon of speculation. As human beings, we are intrigued by the unknown lurking just over the horizon. Right now, we look at space and much of what we see involves those tantalizing glimpses of planets, of galaxies, of things we have only begun to define.
And so, for me, the Deep Space Network is an inspiration. It’s a symbol of all the things we can do when we work together on the cutting edge. And that means that we need to increase our cooperation in – among other things – science and technology, research, and new energy sources.
And we couldn’t ask for a better partner in these efforts than Australia because Australia’s scientists are already pushing the boundaries of knowledge. The recent discovery by ANU astronomers of the oldest star in the known universe will help us better understand its origins.
In security and defense, we’re working on an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities to promote responsible behavior. We’re cooperating on space situational awareness. We’re improving the performance of the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, which provides public information on the orbits of satellites and space debris. And we’re working on a project that would allow us reduce the amount of space debris orbiting the planet, reducing the risk of damage to avoid collisions with expensive – and vital – satellites.
We are also working together on launch support, maneuver planning, preventing collisions, and electromagnetic interference reporting.
Our joint HIFiRE (Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation) Program is looking at the technologies needed for practical hypersonic flight.
And, of course, Australia has been with us on our missions to space. While the Deep Space Network has provided support, three Australian-born astronauts – two of whom have gone to space – have made significant contributions to our understanding of Earth and our solar system.
So we are well on the road, but we can – and should – do more together. A greater focus on innovation and science and technical cooperation keep us competitive in fields like space and medicine. It will also create jobs, and open up new industries for both of our countries.
I’m going to echo the thoughts of Andy Thomas, one of NASA’s Australian-born astronauts. He has argued that Australia needs to be more involved in space, needs to produce more engineers, and could be a pretty good hub for space tourism. And he is right. Australia – like the United States – is a country full of innovators and explorers. There is nowhere we can’t go together.
However, if we want to maintain our advantages in space – and continue to come up with creative solutions to the trickiest engineering problems around – we can’t neglect the next generation. I’m probably preaching to the choir when I say that we need to encourage children to enter STEM fields. So I’m very happy that Charlie Bolden and Charles Elachi will be speaking at Questacon and that Charlie will be talking to student groups in Adelaide and Sydney.
It’s important to ensure that the next Andy Thomas, or Sally Ride — or Charlie Bolden — has access to the science, math, and engineering courses that will give them the tools to innovate and create. Programs like the joint NASA-Victorian Space Science Education Centre Australian Space Prize, which sends Australian university students to NASA Academies, are invaluable – not just for the learning opportunities, but also for building the international ties that can lead to further cooperation.
We need to capitalize on the excitement that major scientific discoveries generate among the public. These discoveries can help build a lifelong interest in the world around us and in worlds beyond our own.
Since the night Perth turned its lights on for John Glenn, and Gerry O’Connor became the first Australian to say G ’day to someone in space, Australia has been exploring with us. To quote Charlie Bolden, our “curiosity has led us to constantly seek new life…new possibilities just beyond the horizon.” I have no doubt that the Deep Space Network – and Australian astronauts – will be a vital part of the mission when we leave the Solar System and boldly go where no one has gone before.