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Obama Gives Speech on NASA Plans at Kennedy Space Center April 15, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in NASA, Obama, Orion (craft).
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President Obama delivered a major speech today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on his plans for NASA:

Obama notes some important general space goals—Mars orbit by the 2030s, a new heavy lift rocket design by 2015, an asteroid mission in the 2020s—but I’m going to highlight some of the important details regarding the Moon, and NASA’s role there. (Click here for his full remarks.)

“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.”

NASA does still have some great lunar science/industry missions in the works; he does later mention them indirectly:

“At the same time, 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. 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 words? How do we supply spacecraft with the energy needed for these far-reaching journeys? These are questions we can and will answer.”

More general comments on the Moon as a destination were a bit unflattering:

“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.”

His actual remark (at 23:05 in the video), as opposed to the prepared speech, was a little more negative:

“But, but—I just have to say, pretty bluntly here—we’ve been there before! Buzz [Aldrin, in audience] has been there. There’s a lot more to explore…”

Perhaps a touch more negative about the Moon’s possibilities than I’d like to see, but private industry does have it covered pretty well, and ideological distancing from Constellation’s general failures makes sense politically. Still, the Moon has some valuable possibilities to it, including in support of longer-range missions; while it’s not NASA’s priority anymore, in my opinion it’s more prudent to say that it’s simply not NASA’s goal, as opposed to not being a goal worth exploring at all.

He does mention the harnessing of resources, etc. indirectly, so the Moon still appears to be in his eye, even if it’s not necessarily ‘hip’ to say it right now ;)

Going back to private industry, Obama made some interesting new remarks on it’s possibilites:

“And there is potential for even more job creation as companies in Florida and across America compete to be part of a new space transportation industry. This holds the promise of generating more than 10,000 jobs nationwide over the next few years. Many of these jobs will be created in Florida, an area primed to lead in this competition.”

This is the first time I can recall seeing anyone put a number (and timeframe) on the private space industry’s impact. ‘More than 10,000 jobs’ over the ‘next few years’.

Obama also voices a strong argument in support of the wisdom of leaning on private companies, citing the history with contractors in the past:

“I recognize that some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. But the truth is, 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.”

A good point that’s been raised, and it’s nice to see it from the President himself. It seems like many I talk to associated with the current establishment of space dismiss private industry somewhat out of hand, and I’ve always felt that to be an underestimation.

All in all, it is an encouraging speech, and it’s good to see Obama ‘lay down the law’ a little in support of his established plans. Despite some vocal opposition, Obama’s sticking to his guns.

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