National Geographic Channel: Launch of MARS Series

Boa tarde a todos!

I am so excited to be co-hosting this event with the National Geographic Channel to celebrate the launch of their innovative new series MARS.  Thanks to Vera Pinto Pereira Senior Vice President of Fox/National Geographic, Iberia and your whole team for being such a great partner and working with us on tonight’s event.  I also want to thank Emmet Fletcher of the European Space Agency who is joining us here tonight to talk about the role ESA is playing in our shared dream of getting to MARS.  And finally thanks to all of you for coming out to share this special event with us tonight.

National Geographic holds a special place in my heart.  As a child I was fascinated with the magazine.  And I was a subscriber!  It was my window to explore both the beauty and the hardship of the world beyond what I knew.  Then, Africa was as foreign a world to me as Mars is today.  And National Geographic was my linkage to understanding the different cultures which existed on my own planet.

In fact, I saved those old yellow magazines which I have to this day.  Perhaps by keeping them I was subconsciously recognizing their importance in opening the world around me. It is great that with the National Geographic Channel a new generation of kids is discovering this world and beyond.

Exploration of space, of planets near and far, has long been a dream of humanity.  Just as Portuguese sailors once stood on the river bank looking out at the never ending ocean, so too do we all stand today; on this little blue ball we call home, looking out at the vastness of space and wondering what we may find out there in the darkness.  And just as those explorers of old knew there were great discoveries to be made just over the horizon, so too we know that in reaching for the stars we can make great discoveries.

In this new era of exploration, we must work together.  No one nation can do it alone.  NASA has set its next goal as sending humans to Mars, but the journey, and the elements used to get us there, must and will, reflect the individual plans and priorities of the partners that join together in exploration.

One of our great partners is the European Space Agency which is helping us take the next step in this journey, by providing the European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft.  This module will include propulsion systems, generate and store power and will provide water, air and heat for astronauts on the Orion Spacecraft, which will help us push farther into space than we ever have before.

This is a journey we are embarking on together and advancing humanity’s reach will be a truly global endeavor; one that will bring us, not only closer to the stars, but will also bring us tangible rewards here on Earth.

Over the years NASA scientists have improved our lives through innovation, and collaboration with industry and the private sector, bringing to market everything from velcro, ski boots and cellphone cameras to solar panels and memory foam.  To date, NASA has documented nearly 1,800 “spinoff” technologies.

And the work of NASA and ESA is not limited to space.  Here on the ground, average citizens can collaborate to help us use space technology to better understand our own planet and the environmental challenges we are facing.  In fact, right here in Portugal you have students participating in NASA’s Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment Program, or GLOBE.

This international scientific and education program provides students and the general public the opportunity to participate in environmental data collection, learn about the scientific process, and contribute meaningfully to our understanding of Earth’s environment.

Recently, I was privileged to present certificates to secondary students in the Azores for their remarkable contribution, submitting more than 10,000 data entries to the GLOBE program.  These are students and teachers motivated to connect their work on Earth with data that NASA is collecting in space; all in an effort to better understand our world and the environmental threats it faces.

But today we are looking beyond Earth towards our neighbor – Mars.

I want to tell you a quick story about the first time I met the woman who is now number two at NASA, Dava Newman.  I was on my way to meet Dr. Newman for the first time, I was going to meet her because she was in charge of the MIT-Portugal program, and I picked up a local Boston Magazine.   What do I see on the inside cover – an incredible picture of Dr. Newman wearing a space suit that she was designing for a manned mission to Mars.  You can bet we spent most of our meeting talking about what it will take to get to Mars!

Dr. Newman was here in Portugal last year and she stressed that in order to get to Mars we have to build our stepping stones.  That means continuing to invest in our closest platform for exploration:  the International Space Station.

This December, our partners here in Europe will be looking to their member states to extend the ISS at least until 2024.  This will mean justifying to their governments the importance of continued support for ISS and space exploration.  We are grateful for the commitments already made by our Canadian, Russian, and Japanese partners for continued utilization of the ISS through 2024.

The ISS is critically valuable as a test bed for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.  Building on the partnerships of the ISS, our common drive to expand humanity’s reach in space will continue.  We will go farther and do more difficult missions as we prepare to eventually send astronauts to Mars.

Expanding our capabilities and extending our missions are part of an overall plan agreed to by the international space agencies participating in the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG).  This plan, the Global Exploration Roadmap, reflects a common vision for deep-space exploration.

There will be successes and there will be failures as we follow our roadmap but each will be a step on the path towards Mars.  To continue on this path requires imagination and inspiration.  That is what the National Geographic Channel’s MARS series brings us.  It gives us a chance to look a little into the future and see just what a manned journey to Mars will look like.  It brings us the experts who are making that journey possible through their work today.

I for one can’t wait to see the whole series.  Space has always been a fascination of mine.  And astronauts have been my heroes since I watched Alan Shepherd become the first American in space.

I remember being awestruck as a young boy when, in 1962, President Kennedy issued the challenge of sending a man to the moon.  And I have been riveted by the possibilities of going to other planets since that night in July, during what is often referred to as the “Summer of Love”, when I saw Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

Along the way to the moon there were failures.  Three brave astronauts lost their lives during the Apollo 1 launch pad fire.  Apollo 13 made famous by the movie never reached its destination.  With bold adventure comes risk and sometimes failure, but also a deepened commitment to great achievement.

I can’t wait to see where we, as a global community, will be on our journey to the red planet in the next 5, 10 or 15 years.  Regardless of when we get there, I truly believe I will get the opportunity to witness that next great leap for mankind when a person sets foot on Mars.

And with that I would like to hand over the microphone to my remarkable co-host, the Senior Vice-President of FOX/National Geographic Partners, Vera Pinto Pereira.