President Barack Obama is redirecting the U.S. space program from return trips to the moon to locations far, far beyond.
Obama said in an address April 15 at the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Fla., that he wants the United States to send astronauts into orbit around Mars by the mid-2030s, and that despite recent criticism about major budget cuts, “no one values the NASA space program more than I.”
The president made a one-day trip to the space center after he was harshly criticized by members of Congress and several influential scientists last week for deciding to curtail NASA’s Constellation project, which was planning to put Americans back on the moon for the first time in decades.
Obama explained that while he was cutting a large part of the NASA budget in one area, he is also planning to add substantial funding-specifically $6 billion-for newer, “smarter” space projects.
“With the strategy I’m outlining today … we start by increasing NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years, even as we have instituted a freeze on discretionary spending and sought to make cuts elsewhere in the budget,” he said.
Obama said he has nothing but respect for NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Space Shuttle programs and the achievements they made. But he said it is time for the agency to change its goals.
“By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crew missions beyond the moon into deep space,” Obama said.
“So, we’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth, and a landing on Mars will follow.”
Obama said the new influx of capital will be used to “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.
“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.
“And we 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 the daily lives of people here on Earth, as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space,” he said.
Obama had some direct words for critics of his plans.
“Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the moon first, as previously planned. But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before,” the president said.
Key Points Made by Obama
Here are the key points from Obama’s address:
–NASA’s budget is to be increased by $6 billion over five years.
–About 2,500 additional jobs will be created in Florida’s Kennedy Space Center area by 2012 for the new projects.
–Major work on building a new heavy-lift rocket will be accelerated, with a commitment to decide in 2015 on the specific heavy-lift rocket that could take U.S. astronauts deeper into space.
–The United States will launch a succession of precursor robotic exploration missions to scout out locations for future human missions.
–The Constellation program will be restructured and NASA will develop the Orion crew capsule to provide stand-by emergency escape capabilities for the space station; in the process, this will reduce U.S. reliance on foreign service and hardware providers.
–NASA will establish a technological foundation for future crew spacecraft needed for missions beyond low Earth orbit.
–The United States will increase the number of astronaut days in space by 3,500 in the coming decade.
–The United States will extend the life of the International Space Station, possibly beyond 2020.
–Obama said he expects a new commercial space transportation industry to provide safe and efficient crew and cargo transportation to the Space Station, projected to create more than 10,000 jobs across the United States over the next five years.