NASA exec urges terrestrial logistics industry to explore new markets — in space

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — NASA has ambitious plans to return to the moon in a permanent way later this decade and then head to Mars in the 2030s, and it is looking for logistics partners to help make that happen.

“I want to challenge you all to figure out how you can drive your research and development to connect with what we’re doing,” Mark Wiese, who heads NASA’s commercial supply chain for deep space, told about 800 airfreight professionals at Air Cargo 2020. “You all have a piece in how we’re going to explore the moon and how we’re going to move our economy off this planet.”

Artemis is NASA’s program to return humans to the moon in 2024. It also will function as a development and proving ground for technologies that will be required for humans to reach Mars next decade.

A key element of Artemis is Gateway, essentially a logistics hub that will orbit the moon and support annual missions to the lunar surface. NASA’s Gateway logistics element team leads commercial acquisition, contract management and risk mitigation to deliver cargo, supplies and pieces of the Gateway architecture to space.

“Gateway will help us move our economy off this planet and help set the stage to go to Mars,” Wiese said. It is being designed with open or non-proprietary standards so that it can be expanded as new missions and partnerships evolve.

The history of NASA and space exploration can be divided into three periods, he said. The first involved Gemini, Mercury and Apollo and the decadelong effort to land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. The next stage revolved around the space shuttle, the first reusable space vehicle. At the end of the shuttle program came the International Space Station and its emphasis on collaboration.

Having the space station in low Earth orbit just a few hours away opened the doors for companies to figure out ways to leverage that asset and find ways to grow their own businesses by testing technologies and doing experiments in space. In addition, opening space to industry has helped drive down the cost of space exploration through new ideas and technologies. Technologies developed for the space program also have found their way into everyday life on Earth.

NASA’s next stage is focusing on new approaches to space exploration while opening up opportunities for new commercial markets. “That’s what I want to empower you all to realize today,” Wiese said.

“We need you to be able to see that opportunity in that market. We need you to find a niche to help and engage.”

NASA is particularly interested in innovations around enhanced radio frequency identification; enhanced artificial intelligence capabilities; developments in in-situ resource utilization, which is about using materials that already are on hand, such as turning previously used packing materials into feedstock for 3D printers; and figuring out ways to refuel vehicles while they are underway.