Obama Sets Course Beyond the Moon for U.S. Space Program

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida, April 15, 2010 (ENS) – President Barack Obama today announced a new direction for America’s space program that he says will “ramp up our capabilities to reach – and operate at – a series of increasingly demanding targets, while advancing our technological capabilities with each step outward.”

“That is how we will ensure that our leadership in space is even stronger in this new century than it was in the last,” the President told an audience of group of senior officials, space leaders, and representatives from government, industry, and academia at the Kennedy Space Center.

Obama said his administration would increase NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years, while at the same time imposing a freeze on discretionary spending and making budget cuts that include parts of the $97 billion Constellation human spaceflight program.

President Barack Obama sets out his new strategy for America’s space program. (Photo by Bill Ingalls courtesy NASA)

The Constellation program was designed to send human explorers back to the Moon, and then onward to Mars and other destinations in the solar system. President Obama has dropped that part of the program that would have returned humans to the Moon.

Obama acknowledged throughout his speech the opposition that has been expressed to some parts of his strategy. “I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned,” he said. “But the simple fact is, we have been there before. There is a lot more space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do.”

Instead, based on the advice of a Blue Ribbon panel and his own and NASA officials’ assessment, President Obama has set a different course for NASA to follow.

“We will ramp up robotic exploration of the solar system, including a probe of the Sun’s atmosphere, new scouting missions to Mars and other destinations, and an advanced telescope to follow Hubble, allowing us to peer deeper into the universe than ever before,” Obama said today.

“We will increase Earth-based observation to improve our understanding of our climate and our world: science that will garner tangible benefits, helping us to protect our environment for future generations,” he said.

Launch of Ares I prototype as part of the Constellation program. October 28, 2009. (Photo courtesy NASA)

Obama said his new strategy “will extend the life of the International Space Station likely by more than five years, while actually using it for its intended purpose: conducting advanced research that can help improve daily life on Earth, as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space. This includes technologies like more efficient life support systems that will help reduce the cost of future missions.”

“And in order to reach the Space Station,” he said, “we will work with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable.”

The President said his new strategy would “build on the good work already done on the Orion crew capsule.” The technology behind the Orion crew exploration vehicle is part of the Constellation program that will be retained.

Obama said he has directed NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charlie Bolden to begin developing a crew rescue vehicle using Orion technology, “so we are not forced to rely on foreign providers if it becomes necessary to quickly bring our people home from the International Space Station.”

“And this Orion effort will be part of the technological foundation for advanced spacecraft to be used in future deep space missions,” said Obama. “In fact, Orion will be readied for flight right here in this room.”

“Next, we will invest more than $3 billion to conduct research on an advanced heavy lift rocket,” he said, “a vehicle to efficiently send into orbit the crew capsules, propulsion systems, and large quantities of supplies needed to reach deep space.”

“In developing this new vehicle, we will not only look at revising or modifying older models. We will also look at new designs, new materials, and new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there,” he said.

Under his strategy, NASA will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015. “That’s at least two years earlier than previously planned – and that’s conservative, given that the previous program was behind schedule and over-budget,” Obama said.

Obama put his finger on the reason behind the unease at NASA. “It stems from the sense that folks in Washington, driven less by vision than by politics, have for years neglected NASA’s mission and undermined the work of the professionals who fulfill it. We can see that in NASA’s budget, which has risen and fallen with the political winds,” said the President.

Robonaut2, or R2, is the next generation dexterous robot, developed by NASA and General Motors. R2 will become a permanent resident on the International Space Station. Launch is planned for September 2010. Click here for more images. (Photo courtesy NASA)

Obama attempted to assure NASA officials that his administration will put its money where its mouth is to back his vision of America’s space program.

“After decades of neglect, we will increase investment – right away – in other groundbreaking technologies that will allow astronauts to reach space sooner and more often, to travel farther and faster for less cost, and to live and work in space for longer periods of time more safely,” he said. “That means tackling major scientific and technological challenges.”

“How do we shield astronauts from radiation on longer missions? How do we harness resources on distant worlds? How do we supply spacecraft with the energy needed for these far-reaching journeys? These are questions we can and will answer,” Obama said. “And these are questions whose answers will no doubt reap untold benefits right here on Earth.”

To turn these goals into realities, the administration is launching a $40 million, multi-agency initiative to help the Space Coast transform its economy and prepare its workers for the future.

The 2004 decision to end the Space Shuttle program made by the Bush administration means that about 6,000 jobs must be transitioned into the new space strategy and related industries. The $40 million will come from the funds requested for the Constellation and will be used to transform the regional economy and prepare its workforce for these new opportunities.

Compared to the plan set forth by the Bush administration, senior administration officials said the President’s new plan for human spaceflight is expected to generate more than 2,500 additional jobs in the Kennedy Space Center area by 2012.

A task force of senior-level administration officials will be convened to construct an economic development action plan for the President’s review within 120 days.

The administration will work to jumpstart the commercial space industry at Kennedy Space Center and dedicate more than $2 billion in funds to modernize Kennedy Space Center’s facilities so it remains a world-class launch port for decades.

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