This afternoon, President Obama will be tasked with selling his new vision for American space exploration and the future of NASA, amidst a flurry of criticism from those who brought us into the Space Age. Even as he will be the first sitting president to speak at Kennedy Space Center since the Clinton Administration, he faces tough opposition.
Apollo-era commanders Neil Armstrong, James Lovell, and Eugene Cernan have released an open letter to the president, slamming the decisions to cancel the previous administration’s Constellation moon mission and rocket development in favor of relying on private companies for future travel to the international space station and beyond. In the letter, they write:
For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature…
Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.
So where are we supposed to go if not the moon? Mars? Well, actually… According to the AP, the White House press secretary has stated that Obama will outline a plan that “will provide more jobs for the area, greater investment in innovation, more astronaut time in space, more rockets launching sooner, and a more ambitious and sustainable space program for America’s future.”
The more ambitious space program will seek to reach the moon, Martian moons, and eventually Mars in missions to come. The question of when remains to be answered. NASA will be streaming the speech via their NASA TV site, so stay tuned for more details.
Update: Obama, in his 30-minute speech, answered his critics by stating that the Moon is an old objective:
I just have to say, pretty bluntly here, we’ve been there before. Buzz has been there. There’s a lot more of space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do.
Without much detail, the President stated that America can reach the Martian moons by the mid-2030s. In order to get there, NASA will work with a growing array of private companies to get to space safely and affordably, while adding a projected 2,500 new jobs to the Space Coast. These details, however, did not silence his critics; astronaut Jim Lovell stated the plan was “short-sighted” and put America behind China and Russia on the world stage.
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