NASA Begins America’s New Moon to Mars Exploration Approach in 2018

With our Moon to Mars effort underway, a new administrator takes over to lead the charge, and oh yeah we stuck another nearly flawless landing on Mars! All that and more as we look back at what happened This Year @ NASA!
Credits: NASA Television

NASA welcomed a new administrator, Jim Bridenstine, deputy administrator, Jim Morhard, and chief financial officer, Jeff DeWit, in 2018. Their focus is on firmly establishing the groundwork to send Americans back to the Moon sustainably, with plans to use the agencys lunar experience to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.

Our agencys accomplishments in 2018 are breathtaking. Weve inspired the world and created incredible new capabilities for our nation, Bridenstine said. This year, we landed on Mars for the seventh time, and America remains the only country to have landed on Mars successfully. We created new U.S.

commercial partnerships to land back on the Moon. We made breakthroughs in our quest to send humans farther into space than ever before. And, we contributed to remarkable advancements in aviation. I want to thank the entire NASA team for a fantastic year of American leadership in space, and I am confident we will build on our 2018 successes in 2019.

In 2018, NASA celebrated six decades of exploration, discoveries and cutting-edge technology development for the agencys 60th anniversary on Oct. 1. Bridenstine said, President Eisenhower launched our nation into the Space Age and President Kennedy gave us the charge to reach the Moon. Over six incredible decades, we have brought the world an amazing number of bold missions in science, aviation and human exploration. NASA and its workforce have never failed to raise the bar of human potential and blaze a trail to the future. We celebrate our legacy today with great promise and a strong direction from the President to return to the Moon and go on to Mars.

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer received a successful clean audit in 2018 the eighth consecutive clean financial audit opinion for the agency. In addition, DeWit led his Strategic Investments Division in working with the Government Accounting Office to pass an official Corrective Action Plan for only the second time in NASAs history, which will increase accountability and transparency into the costs of large programs and proactively improve NASAs program and project management activities.

On Dec. 11, NASA recently marked the one-year anniversary of Space Policy Directive-1 (SPD-1), which provided a directive for NASA to return humans to the surface of the moon for long-term exploration and utilization and pursue human exploration of Mars and the broader solar system. Two additional space policy directives were enacted this year by the White House, with SPD-2 in February helping ease the regulatory environment so entrepreneurs can thrive in space, and SPD-3 in June helping ensure the U.S. is a leader in providing a safe and secure environment as commercial and civil space traffic increases.

Moon to Mars

America’s return to the Moon will begin with U.S. commercial delivery services of small scientific instruments, followed by development of an infrastructure in orbit around the Moon to support human missions to the lunar surface, Mars and destinations beyond, for decades to come. Highlights from 2018 include:

Nine U.S. companies are eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, left, and Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen, right, join with representatives of nine U.S. companies that are eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls
  • In October, NASA issued a call for lunar surface instruments and technology payloads that will fly to the Moon on commercial lunar landers as early as next year.On Nov. 29, the agency announced nine U.S. companies are eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts.
  • After receiving more than 190 scientific abstracts from the research community, NASA hosted a conference in February for scientists across a variety of disciplines to discuss future exploration and research using the Gateway, a spacecraft that will orbit the Moon and support human and robotic missions.

The transportation system that will carry astronauts from Earth to the Gateway, and help build the structure in orbit, continued to take shape in 2018 with more flight hardware coming together around the country for the first launch of NASAs Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft.

  • NASA delivered the second piece of SLS flight hardware to its Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this year. The Orion stage adapter will connect the spacecraft to SLS and will be loaded with13 small satelliteson the first mission.
  • Engineers are completing final outfitting and assembly of thefivemajor structural pieces of the SLS core stage at NASAs Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
  • Engineers at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, are putting the finishing touches on the 30-foot-talllaunch vehicle stage adapter, which will connect SLS core stage to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage delivered to Kennedy last year.
  • Engineers at Kennedy installedOrions reentry heat shield
  • ESA (European Space Agency) delivered to Kennedy the service module that will propel, power and cool Orion during the first integrated flight test with SLS Exploration Mission 1.
  • Workers at Kennedy also completed constructionon the main flame deflector at Launch Pad 39B, and engineers installed thefinal umbilicalon themobile launcher before rolling themassivetower on Crawler-Transporter 2to the pad.

It was a great year for robotic exploration of Mars, as well:

  • NASAs Curiosity rover identified fragments of complex organic molecules in the shallow surface of Mars, giving us further evidence that the Red Planet could have hosted life at one point.
  • NASA launched and landed the first spacecraft to set down on the Red Planet since Curiosity arrived in 2012 the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). InSight touched down on Martian soil in November to study the planets interior and, just 10 days after landing, provided the first ever “sounds” of winds on Mars.
  • NASA also announced the landing site for its next Red Planet rover, Mars 2020, which will continue the agencys efforts to search for evidence of life and prepare for human arrival.

Other highlights in the agencys progress this year in supporting the new Moon to Mars exploration approach include:

Solar System and Beyond

In 2018, NASA bid farewell to two veteran science spacecraft, launched a record-breaking mission to the Sun, and continued to make discoveries with current missions and progress on future missions. Highlights from the year include:

  • NASAs Parker Solar Probe launched on the first-ever mission to touch the Sun. The mission broke records for fastest human-made object and closest approach to the Sun, and sent home its first light images including a picture of Earth in late October. Its first flight through the Suns outer atmosphere was on Nov. 7.
  • After a two-year journey, NASAs Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission arrived at its destination, the asteroid Bennu, on Dec. 3. One of the first observations from NASAs first asteroid sample return mission revealed water locked inside the clays that make up Bennu.
    detailed image of asteroid
    This mosaic image of asteroid Bennu is composed of 12 PolyCam images collected on Dec. 2, 2018, by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a range of 15 miles (24 km).
    Credits: NASA/University of Arizona

  • For only the second time in history, a human-made object reached the space between the stars. In December, NASA announced itsVoyager 2probe has exited the heliosphere the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.
  • Using NASAs Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories, astronomers found in June that Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object to travel through our solar system, had an unexpected speed boost and a change in trajectory. Scientists believe the object is a new type of comet.
  • After nine years of searching for planets outside our solar system, NASAs Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel, but not before scientists were able to use it, and Hubble, to find hints of what could be a moon orbiting another planet outside our solar system. If confirmed, this would be the first exomoon ever detected.
  • NASAs Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April, continues the search for planets outside our solar system. The spacecraft, which began science operations in July, will survey the entire sky over the course of two years, searching for nearby exoplanets.
    TESS illustration
    Illustration of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) observing an M dwarf star with orbiting planets.
    Credits: NASA

  • NASAs Dawn mission, which launched in 2007, also ran out of fuel this year, but not before becoming the first spacecraft to orbit two separate bodies in the solar system the asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. Among its many findings, Dawn helped scientists discover organics on Ceres and evidence that dwarf planets could have hosted oceans over a significant part of their history and may still.
  • The Independent Review Board established by NASA to assess progress on its James Webb Space Telescope unanimously recommended this year that development on the worlds premier science observatory should continue. NASA established a new 2021 launch date for Webb, and completed several critical tests and milestones in 2018, including vibration and acoustic tests and a simulation of the telescopes complex communications. The two halves of Webb the spacecraft and the telescope were connected temporarily for a communications test during which they successfully spoke to each other.
  • Newly analyzed data from NASAs Galileo spacecraft, collected two decades ago, indicate the magnetic field around the moon Ganymede makes it unlike any other in the solar system.

Humans in Space

In 2018, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Scott Tingle, Serena Aunon-Chancellor and Anne McClain participated in their first spaceflight missions to the International Space Station, benefitting from the experience of three veteran astronauts Joe Acaba, Ricky Arnold, and Drew Feustel, who also completed missions aboard the space station this year. Here are ways humans in space were leading discovery and improving life on Earth in 2018:

  • Crew members of Expeditions 54-58 supported more than 100 new U.S. science investigations, which use the unique orbiting laboratory to prepare for future missions to the Moon and Mars and improve life on Earth through research sponsored by theU.S. National Laboratory. In February, astronauts set a new record-setting week of research that surpassed 100 hours.
  • Research conducted on station in 2018 included experiments to understand plants on Earth as well as plants growing in space, and new facilities that may help us to understand the materials needed for exploring the universe, the physiology of life in space and the basic elements of the universe itself.
  • A testbed for technology, the space station now hosts the first combination 3D printer and recycler to demonstrate a new in-space manufacturing capability, Biomolecule Extraction and Sequencing Technology (BEST) to help identify microbes aboard the space station, and the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).
  • Nine U.S. astronauts were assigned to Commercial Crew Program missions aboard the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. Both companies have begun final testing of their spacecraft and associated systems, and the first test flights are expected in 2019.
    The first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station
    The first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station, wave after being announced, Friday, Aug. 3, 2018 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The astronauts are, from left to right: Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada and Suni Williams. The agency assigned the nine astronauts to crew the first flight tests and missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon.
    Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

  • Expedition 56 astronauts installed new cameras on the station in June to provide enhanced views of Boeings CST-100 Starliner and SpaceXs Crew Dragon as they approach and dock to the station.
  • NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, who were forced to abort their planned mission to the orbital laboratory, were reassigned to the Expedition 59 mission, targeted to launch Feb. 28, 2019.
  • Successful commercial partnerships with Northrop Grumman and SpaceX for cargo resupply resulted in five missions delivering more than 32,000 pounds of critical supplies to the International Space Station, while the SpaceX Dragon capsule also returned more than 7,800 pounds of investigations and equipment to researchers on Earth.
  • NASA began operating a newspace communications satelliteto support more than 40 NASA missions in low-Earth orbitas well as astronauts living in space on the orbital laboratory, enabling it to continue communications support well into the next decade.
  • NASA continued to update thespace communication and navigationnetworks that support 83 missions, returning data from the solar system, and beyond, back to Earth. This includes upgrading emergency communications ground stationsthat support the space station and refurbishing itsBermuda Tracking Station, which supports launches from the agencys Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, and will support launches of commercial crew to the space station and Orion/SLS missions to the Moon from Florida. The agency also issued acall for studiesto explore designs that incorporate commercial elements into future space relay services.
  • NASA selected 13 companies to study the future of commercial human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit, including long-range opportunities for the International Space Station.
  • NASA and its space station partners marked the 20th anniversary of the launch and construction of the first elements of the International Space Station.


NASAs aeronautics team reached several major milestones in 2018 in its efforts to enable commercial supersonic air travel over land.

  • In April, the agency awarded Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company a contract to build the Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft, designated the X-59, which will demonstrate quiet supersonic flight over land. In July, NASA signed an agreement with its French counterpart to collaborate on researchpredicting where sonic booms will be heard as supersonic aircraft fly overhead.
    AAPL Learjet scale model
    Acoustics experts at NASAs Glenn Research Center in Cleveland recently used the centers Aero-Acoustic Propulsion Laboratory (AAPL) to complete an evaluation on a small-scale model of a Learjet engine exhaust, or nozzle, system.
    Credits: NASA

  • In October, an X-59 model was tested in a wind tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia to collect data about the aircrafts flight controls.
  • In November, the X-59 project completed a rigorous review and the agency committed to the projects funding and development timeline.
  • Methods for measuring public perception of supersonic noise from the X-59 were tested over Galveston, Texas, using a NASA F/A-18 research jet.

Another major aeronautics focus was NASAs ongoing work in Urban Air Mobility (UAM) a safe and efficient system for passenger and cargo air transportation in and around urban areas.

Throughout the year, NASA continued several other avenues of research to advance aerial vehicle technology:

  • Engineers used a test stand called AirVolt to test the cruise motors that will power NASAs first fully electric X-plane, the X-57.
  • The agency looked into how icing affects jet engines at high altitudes.
  • NASA completed a series of Acoustic Research Measurement flights that combined several technologies to achieve a greater than 70 percent reduction in airframe noise.
  • Researchers furthered the ability to fly safely with newly configured, highly flexible wings by flying the X-56 to collect data on wing flutter models and ways to suppress it.
  • NASAs work in 2018 to help modernize and improve the nations air traffic management system was highlighted by the transfer to the FAA of NASA technology developed so aircraft arriving at busy airports can be managed more efficiently.

Space Technology

Technology drives exploration and, in 2018, NASAs investments in space technology continued to advance our capabilities for future exploration missions. New technology tests, demonstrations and partnerships helped solve complex challenges needed to land, live and explore the Moon and Mars.

  • NASA and the Department of Energy demonstrateda new nuclear reactor power system that could provide surface power on the Moon and Mars.
    Artist concept of new fission power system on the lunar surface.
    Artist concept of new fission power system on the lunar surface.
    Credits: NASA

  • A team of NASA engineers demonstrated a technology first: fully autonomous X-ray navigation in space, which could revolutionize NASAs ability to pilot robotic spacecraft to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond.
  • NASA announced 10 new lunar focused Tipping Point partnerships with six U.S. companies.
  • The Robotic Refueling Mission 3 launched to the space station aboard a SpaceX rocket. The technology demonstration will store and transfer super-cold cryogenic fluid in space, helping mature capabilities for robotic satellite servicing and refueling.
  • The Integrated Solar Array and Reflectarray Antenna CubeSat mission advanced high-speed data downlink from space, a communications technology also used by two small satellites to relay InSights Mars landing data back to Earth.
  • A small satellite achieved space-to-ground laser communications for the first time. The Optical Communication and Sensor Demonstration mission transmitted at a data rate of 100 megabits per second 50 times greater than standard communications systems for spacecraft this size.
  • NASA advanced additive manufacturing for rocket propulsion and successfully hot-fire tested a combustion chamber made using new 3D printing techniques.
  • A team of engineers completed ground demonstrations of the autonomous capture portion of the Restore-L satellite servicing project.
  • NASAs three In-space Robotic Manufacturing and Assembly partners completed ground demonstrations of robotic arms, vision systems, additive techniques and other cutting-edge technologies to assemble structures in space.
  • NASAs FlightOpportunities program funded more than 40 payloadflight demonstrations, providing opportunities for researchers to test new technologies and helping mature the suborbital flight industry.
  • In September, the innovative heat shield technology, Adaptable Deployable Entry Placement Technology conducted a flight test.
  • NASA awarded more than 550 small business contracts, totaling more than $180 million.


In 2018, NASA continued to use its global perspective of Earth from space to improve lives and revolutionize our understanding of how our planet works and is changing. By bringing together technology, science, and unique global observations, NASA provides societal benefits and strengthens our nation.

  • In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists using an array of NASA satellite observations have mapped locations around the world where the availability of freshwater is changing. The study found that Earths wet land areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting drier.
    Camp Fire on Nov. 8 from the Landsat 8 satellite
    An image of the Camp Fire in Butte County, California, on Nov. 8, 2018, from the Landsat 8 satellite.
    Credits: USGS/NASA/Joshua Stevens

  • For the first time ever, measurements from NASA satellites are being used to help combat a potential outbreak of life-threatening cholera. Humanitarian teams in Yemen are targeting areas identified by a NASA-supported project that precisely forecasts high-risk regions based on environmental conditions observed from space.
  • In November, NASA scientists and satellite data analysts worked daily to produce maps and damage assessments for disaster managers battling major wildfires near Los Angeles and in Northern California.
  • Ice losses from Antarctica have tripled since 2012, causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years, according to a major international climate assessment funded by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency.)
  • NASA launched the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD), its first mission to provide unprecedented measurements of the temperature and composition of Earths upper atmosphere.

STEM Engagement

This past year, NASA celebrated aYear of Education on Station, during which teachers-turned-astronautsJoe AcabaandRicky Arnoldinspired thousands of students and educators through live events and video lessons from space.

NASA continues to offer educators and nonprofits low-cost opportunities to conduct research in space through its CubeSat Launch Initiative, including kicking off its 10th annual call for submissions, while NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation are engaging K-12 students with a series of Future Engineers challenges.

As part of NASAs 60th anniversary, NASA honored the legacy of thespace shuttle Challengercrew by conductingChrista McAuliffeslesson plan on the space station.

Public Engagement

National Symphony Orchestra performs "Space, the Next Frontier"
Conductor Emil de Cou speaks after leading the National Symphony Orchestra during the “Space, the Next Frontier” event celebrating NASA’s 60th Anniversary, Friday, June 1, 2018 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. The event featured music inspired by space including artists, Grace Potter, Coheed & Cambria, John Cho, and guest Nick Sagan, son of Carl Sagan.
Credits: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

/Public Release. For more details, please visit NASA website.