19–22 August 2019
JW Marriott, Indianapolis, Indiana

Realism and Ambition in Civil Space

Posted: 13 July 2017, 1:30 p.m. EDT

Speaker: William H. Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA  

by Tom Risen, Aerospace America staff reporter

A growing space industry is opening new opportunities for business and exploration, but NASA will play a key role by clearing a path for companies to follow, Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA, said July 12 during a speech at the 2017 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Atlanta.

“NASA doesn’t need to be developing all the systems, building all the hardware, doing everything,” Gerstenmaier said. “I look at NASA kind of as an orchestrator now, where we take the best that is available from industry.”

In the “NASA Human Space Exploration” session, Gerstenmaier reviewed NASA’s goals, including the construction of the Deep Space Gateway, a spaceport the Space Launch System rocket would launch to lunar orbit in pieces. Astronauts could stay at a completed gateway for a few weeks at a time, and that presence in lunar orbit could offer opportunities for companies to launch missions of their own to the moon or its orbit, he said.

The International Space Station is also “potentially a spark for commercial activity in low Earth orbit,” he said.

Sending humans to Mars is a major goal for NASA, but Gerstenmaier said building infrastructure in deep space — like the gateway — would open opportunities to reach other destinations, including the moon if water is discovered inside it and lunar missions become a higher priority.


Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations at NASA, delivers remarks July 12 during "NASA Human Space Exploration” at the 2017 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Atlanta.

“NASA has a sense of fiscal realism,” he said, noting that partnerships with companies and international groups will be key to potentially sending humans to the moon or Mars on a limited federal budget.

NASA is working to open more partnerships by developing voluntary standards for equipment, he said. There is already an international standard for docking between spacecraft, Gerstenmaier said, and NASA wants to develop more such voluntary standards in areas including atmosphere pressure and voltage levels.

“The secret is to keep those requirements at a high enough level that you are not driving a specific design,” he said. “If anybody in the world builds to those standards, we have interoperability.”

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Dates to Remember

  • Abstract Deadline: 31 Jan 2019
  • Manuscript Deadline: 15 Jul 2019

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