Cape Canaveral, Florida: President Barack Obama sought to blunt criticism of his new space policy on Thursday by telling NASA workers his plans would save some jobs and steer a course toward a manned mission to Mars.
Obama laid out his case on a visit to Kennedy Space Center, where a sense of a looming crisis has taken hold because thousands of jobs are drying up when the space shuttle is retired at the end of the year. Many also fear the U.S. space program will no longer be a world leader.
Obama told a crowd of about 200 people at Kennedy Space Center, a key source of jobs in the election battleground state of Florida, he understood their worries and addressed some of the critics, who included Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon.
"The bottom line is, nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space, than I am. But we've got to do it in a smart way," Obama said to applause.
Pledging a "transformative agenda" for NASA, Obama sketched an ambitious vision of developing by 2025 spacecraft capable of journeys into deep space and by the mid-2030s sending astronauts to an asteroid, into orbit around Mars and later to land there. "And I expect to be around to see it," he said.
But Obama did not provide a detailed road map of how these breakthroughs would be achieved.
Obama said a $6 billion increase in NASA's budget will help ramp up exploration of the solar system, increase Earth-based observation to improve an understanding of climate change, and bolster support for private space companies which he said have formed a bedrock of America's space programs.
To those who would return America to the moon as had been planned, Obama said: "I just have to say pretty bluntly -- we've been there before...There's a lot more space to explore and a lot more to learn when we do."
Obama has faced sharp criticism for proposing to abandon the Constellation moon program after $9 billion has been spent and allocate $6 billion to support private companies in developing space rockets to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.
First Published: Friday, April 16, 2010, 15:24