Obama does the hard sell on NASA's future

NASA hears Obama’s plan at speech from Kennedy Space Center

Obama NASA visit
President Obama took to the heart of the NASA community today to promote his vision of the future of the space program.   In a speech at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Obama said his plan for NASA will send more astronauts on more missions to more place faster and at a better cost than the plan that it replaces

Obama said he wants NASA leap into the future and that his administration is  "100% committed" to the space agency and its future. 

21 critical future NASA missions 

The major developments Obama focused on included: 

  • The $3.1 billion development of a new heavy lift rocket to fly manned and unmanned spaceflights into deep space. Obama wants this technologically advanced rocket to be designed and ready to build by 2015. "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. And we will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it. 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. 
  • A revised plan for the Orion space capsule being developed under presumably defunct Constellation program. Orion in its current status looks similar to the Apollo spacecraft, but is significantly larger. Orion was set to be 16.5 feet in diameter and have a mass of about 25 tons and would seat four crew members on missions to the moon, and six on missions to the International Space Station or Mars-bound spacecraft. Obama's plan would use a smaller version of Orion that could be used as an emergency escape vehicle for the International Space Station. 
  • Extending the support of the International Space Station at least five years beyond the current 2015 end date.  
  • Major support for commercial ventures for low earth orbit transportation that will untrap NASA from LEO and let it focus development on many other areas including deep space. "NASA has always relied on private industry to help design and build the vehicles that carry astronauts to space, from the Mercury capsule that carried John Glenn into orbit nearly fifty years ago, to the Space Shuttle Discovery currently orbiting overhead. By buying the service of space transportation - rather than the vehicles themselves - we can continue to ensure rigorous safety standards are met. But we will also accelerate the pace of innovation as companies - from young start-ups to established leaders - compete to design, build, and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere," Obama said. 
  • Land a crewed space ship on an asteroid.  
  • Developing systems that can protect astronauts from radiation and building advanced space propulsion systems. 
  • Spend $40 million to help train and retrain workers and support the economic transition NASA and its communities face in the future.  Obama said his program could create as many as 10,000 new jobs across the country in the coming years. 

Obama's challenge to NASA was to get a manned spaceflight to Mars by 2030 via a number of steps that include robotic flights to the Moon, Mars and other planets as well as a host of other technological missions.  The challenge may seem far off but most of the equipment needed to make such a trip is largely undeveloped.  

In recent days an open letter from former astronauts Neil Armstrong and others said:  "We see our human exploration program, one of the most inspirational tools to promote science, technology, engineering and math to our young people, being reduced to mediocrity. NASA's human space program has inspired awe and wonder in all ages by pursuing the American tradition of exploring the unknown. We strongly urge you to drop this misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future." 

Obama noted the dissent: "There are also those who have criticized our decision to end parts of Constellation as one that will hinder space exploration beyond low Earth orbit," Obama said. "I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned. 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." 

"For pennies on the dollar, the space program has improved our lives, advanced our society, strengthened our economy, and inspired generations of Americans. And I have no doubt that NASA can continue to fulfill this role. But that is why it is so essential that we pursue a new course and that we revitalize NASA and its mission - not just with dollars, but with clear aims, and a larger purpose," Obama said. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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