Science Friday: A New Vision For NASA

Yesterday was an historic day for NASA and the future of human space exploration. President Obama gave a speech at Kennedy Space Center detailing his vision for the future of this country’s space program. Check out this week’s Science Friday for a review of the new plan, including video of Obama’s speech, and find out what Leonard Nimoy has to say about it.


Obama’s Speech on the future of NASA and human space exploration

Extending Life of the ISS With the Help of Private Companies
One of the first talking points in Obama’s speech yesterday was the extension of the life of the International Space Station. While plans for the future of the ISS have been unclear, the President has stated that we wants to continue to use the ISS for what it was intended, doing advanced scientific research that will benefit the day to day lives of those living on the Earth, for at least another five years. In order to send astronauts to the station, Obama has called for the help of private companies that would compete to build better and more cost effective technologies to be able to send men into space more often. Some have criticized this approach saying that private industry is not ready to take on this task, but the president noted that NASA has been using the services of private industry since the days of the Mercury capsules, and that with their help we will be able to send men into low Earth orbit much more frequently.

The ISS gets a longer life

Constellation’s Orion Capsule Back on Track + Heavy Lifter Rocket
Some people have been concerned at the cancellation of the now over budget and behind schedule Constellation program that was slated to take men back to the moon. The president has announced that the Orion capsule, a part of the Constellation program, will be renewed and made into an escape pod for the International Space Station rather than relying on the Russian Soyuz. This move will renew some of the jobs slated to be lost by the cancellation of Constellation, and will go towards building a large manned capsule that could eventually be taken beyond Earth orbit on a heavy lifter. The president has set the goal of choosing a new design for a heavy lifter rocket to take men into space (to replace the now retiring Space Shuttle) no later than 2015 and then begin to build it.

Orion gets a new purpose

Manned Missions to Asteroids, Mars, Beyond by 2030’s
Throughout his speech, Obama stressed his dedication to manned space exploration of deep space (meaning, in this case, beyond the Earth’s moon). His new vision sets the goal that in early in the next decade, NASA will carry out tests of new crewed flights to prove the systems required for exploration beyond low Earth orbit. By 2025, he expects that we will have a new spacecraft designed to take humans beyond the Moon for the first time in history.

So we’ll start — we’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. (Applause.) 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. And I expect to be around to see it. (Applause.)

The president clearly set out a goal of going to an asteroid, and then taking men to orbit Mars and eventually land their by the mid-2030s. After his new NASA budget was originally announced (which scrapped the Constellation plan of going of returning to the Moon), there was no such goal, which has been the largest criticism from those involved in the program. Many were hoping for a goal of sending men to Mars by a specified date, and in this case, the president delivered.

Men to asteroids, Mars by 2030’s

NASA Gets $6Billion Budget Increase + More Jobs
In order to tackle all of these new goals and ideals, the NASA budget needs to be increased and sustained. While the country remains in a freeze on any new discretionary spending, the president has allocated funds by cutting back other programs and giving that money to NASA. Over the next 5 years, NASA will get an injection of $6Billion. That will be a nice increase to the current $17.8Billion budget of the administration. Additionally, the president has assured NASA that these new programs will create lots of new jobs along the space coast (primarily Fla and Tex). This comes as good news to members of Constellation and other programs that feared the loss of their jobs due to the program changes.

Budget increase and more jobs at NASA centers

Nimoy Weighs in: "Obama is a Star Trek fan"

Yesterday Star Trek’s original Spock, Leonard Nimoy attended the 26th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, where he accepted the 2010 Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award for being an inspiration to those entering the sciences. According to Nimoy watched the president’s speech and offered some thoughts. Here is an excerpt:

"I do believe that President Obama means it when he says that he is 100 percent interested in space," Nimoy told reporters. "I know for sure he’s a Star Trek fan," he said, because the first time the two men met, President Obama made Spock’s traditional V-shaped finger spread.

Nimoy said he didn’t feel qualified to speak to the merits of the president’s new plan for space, but that it sounded like a positive direction.

"All-in-all I’m looking forward," he said. "I hope it’s going to work out for the best."


More details

If you want even more details on the new Obama policy visit for the full overview.



If you are on Twitter, you know there are plenty of amazing people out there tweeting away. And, many of them are scientists! Every Friday I’ll be bringing you a new list of great scientists and techies to follow on Twitter. This week…

  • @nasa: News straight from the source. Official Twitter of NASA.
  • @TheRealNimoy: Yes, Leonard Nimoy is on Twitter!
  • @Voyager2: Tweets from the farthest spacecraft out there – V’Ger


TrekMovie’s Science Friday is an homage the the great NPR radio show Science Friday. Science Friday® is a registered service mark of ScienceFriday Inc.

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I know most Trekies like Obama over Bush, but at least Bush had an actual plan to make advanced space exploration a reality.

Scrapping Constellation is a terrible idea.

Bush authorized Nasa to develop the Constellation program.

Constellation was not BUSHS plan!

An example of a BUSH plan was to sit for 7 minutes and listen to kids reading “my pet goat” while America was under attack


that is not called for. This is about space policy not partisan potshots.

Everyone else, find a way to chat about policy without resorting to partisan political attacks

As for my opinion

I am in favor of the new NASA plan, mostly the development of new technology to get to Mars faster. Hopefully we will see ion drives or nuclear rockets or more high tech solutions than the Ares V which seemed to just be old school tech. It would be great to go back to the moon, but i would rather go to an asteroid and mars if we had to choose, and the budget reality is that we have to choose.

As for handing LEO to private enterprise, that seems to be sensible. As Neil deGrasse Tyson says, LEO is “going where many men have gone before”, NASA should be about the frontier of SPACE, not the routine.

It’s funny how an actor , Nimoy, is quoted for this article, yet an actually astronaut, Neil Armstrong is not. Could it be t becuase Armstrong is NEGATIVE about this plan ?????

I think I can sum up what’s on everyone’s mind:

Obama a Trekkie? sweet! :)

So, where is the Armstrong letter in this story????

Also, Obama astroturffed his audience. They were not NASA employees. This was stated on several news sites.

Remember to praise Landru in your posts. Because if you don’t anthony the lawgiver will absorb you ;)

TO #4 you can’t have a discussion or a debate if you only present one side.

I have to say, although I’m a HUGE manned spaceflight fan (my grandfather worked on the LEM program at Grumman) I have to say that Constellation was a bit of a let down. IMO going back to the moon in a scaled up version of the Apollo/Saturn spacecraft was a step in the wrong direction. It’s been almost 40 years since we walked on the moon (I was born half a year before the last time man was there) and even though I’d have loved to have been cognizant of it, I can’t say using a second generation design after that long is what I’d call progress. In that time, think about what things have happened in computers, telephonics, global navigation, games… NASA has fallen way behind the times and Constellation was just another example.

If we can get both government and corporate America (we are, after all, a capitalist state) behind a bold new step forward, then I’m all for it. I think getting us out past lunar space is that bold step so I support scrapping Constellation in favor of something a little more forward thinking. I can’t see how what amounts to Apollo version 1.2 will get us anywhere. Trust me, we were supposed to go to Mars in the ’80s according to Von Braun… America lost interest in the space program after we got bogged down on the moon and it would happen again if we just went back.

It’s time to boldly go, people. Not meekly go back.

I’m happy that there is broad support and clear goals, it’s just a shame they are a bit on the longer term scale. Fingers crossed there will be many new technologies and other benefits for our planet, the inhabitants and well many exiting answers and questions to cosmic challenges.

I was kinda hoping for a Star Trek quote or sign by Obama tough. “to boldly go”, “final frontier” or something along those lines

I really don’t think this article is partisan unless you read it with preconceived notions of hate or love toward Pres. Obama.

I beg you: Judge the PLAN, not the MAN. Hate him or love him, please try and look at his plan without partisan ideals making up your mind before hand. I love some of the plan and I hate some of it, and I tried to report this article with facts (mostly taking direct or paraphrased quotes from the speech) rather than commenting on its validity.

#6 Nimoy (an actor) is quoted in this article because he is Spock from The Original Star Trek series. As a Star Trek website, it fits. Or did you forget about his role in that show?

Thanks to those submitting thoughtful comments about space policy. I want to hear more from you guys, as I know you all have some wonderful ideas.

Keep ’em coming!

The problem with Bush’s plan is that it was unimaginative and underfunded. Obama has laid out a program than can be achieved and is paid for in his budget. At least with this approach there are clear decision points (2015 will be huge). NASA will be able to focus on developing a long range exploration infrastructure, and leave matters related to low earth orbit where they belong – with the private sector. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the free market conservatives would ever have a problem with this approach.

Obama has laid out a program that puts a lot of Floridians who work for NASA out of work by canceling Constellation, He will farm those jobs out to private firms undoubtedly outsourcing to other countries will take place, while the good NASA folks from Constellation and the shuttle program collect unemployment.

Im with Neil Armstrong and Lovell on this. The Plan is a bad idea and a step back. Nasa needs to move forward and not backward. With this new plan Nasa is going backwards and that is not a good Idea. Presedent Kennedy had the Intellengence to get us to the Moon in a 10 year Period. Why not set a time frame for Mars like Presdent Kennedy. Maybe 20 years as a set Goal. I believe it can be done just like all the brave Men and Women of the early 1960s did when John F Kennedy said we will have a Man on the Moon by the end of the Decade. Well. We did. Why not shoot for that goal for Mars.

Why can’t we go to the Moon and Mars?

Ever since Apollo ended, there has been no clear direction or goal for the space program. During the 60s, we had to do it to keep up with the soviets. Nowdays there isn’t really an economic, political, or national incentive to explore space. If we want to stay in space for good, the government needs a program that will eventually create a demand for space infrastructure and draw in private businesses seeking an opportunity to make a profit. Manned space exploration is ESSENTIAL in creating a demand that will draw in private industry. Anywhere you put people in a permanent base, whether it be on the moon or on mars, private business will soon follow. I just hope that the United States leads the way and doesn’t fall behind so that I can be a part of it

When I was 8, I read about the Mars exploration plan proposed by G.W. Bush. Life Magazine suggested that this would be the start of a grand settlement plan, culminating in the terraforming of the planet by 2300 after the first manned mission in 2010. Well, it’s 2010 now, and we know much more about Mars than we once did but are no closer to landing humans on it. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

The strength of the current plan of the President lies in its support for proof of concept missions for living, working, and manufacturing in space, both specific efforts administered directly by NASA and tangible encouragement of the burgeoning new players in commercial rocketry.

That kind of planning trumps any propositions of going somewhere at a time when the present Congress and President are long beyond being held to account at the ballot box. Because if even one such mission works, people see this and take note. Businesses start thinking there might be profit in space. One of my best friends says the best way to motivate humans to go into space is greed. He’s a kind and virtuous man but he reads human nature quite correctly.

And some of these plans do work, we’ll be able to go to the Moon and live more cheaply. I love Mars dearly, but my realistic dream is to visit the Moon.

I’m not an expert on these things, but i’m interested so I try to research and listen to what others say. I really like the trekmovie keeps an eye on these things, but I am really disappointed that the comments on these types of articles continually turn into namecalling and/or partisan sniping.

In my novice opinion, it looks like the new plan is meant to focus on more immediate benefits from the space program. I like that because it encourages the private sector and the ordinary public to become re-interested in space exploration.

I’m glad the president supports NASA. It’s sad that we have to cancel the Constellation program after we put so much work into it already.

I’m glad we are gonna actually use the ISS after it is complete.

I don’t get why we would continue development of Orion just as an escape pod while we are going to go with private development? Shouldn’t we focus on one or the other? Plus, the Soyuz works just fine. And how are we gonna get Orion up there? Does this mean we are still gonna build the Ares I?

“The Plan” is not a good stepping stone by any means.
Constellation, warts and all, was.
Why ignore all of the potential the moon has to offer? Why not use the Orion capsule as our primary vehicle for getting to the ISS? Why re-invent the wheel and have to rely on the Russians? An escape pod? The thing has to be man rated first. There are two Soyuz capsules ALREADY there as “escape pods.”
My God, what kind of science advisers does Obama have? (If any!)
What a mess.

I hope what, President Obama was discussing in some way was the MHD(Magneto Hydro Dynamic) space vehicles that have been mentioned on NASA/NASA/JPL site.

It seems the U.S. Air Force may also be constructing MHD Air/Space vehicles.

The goal of a true MHD vehicle as I understand is to carry little to no fuel at all and use the existing plasma flows(Birkeland currents?) to charge a coil(s) to create a MHD field around the craft to protect the astronauts as well as provide a means of propulsion.

Star Trek’s Photon Torpedoes employ MHD.
The nacelles in a Starfleet ships seem well suited for creating MHD fields.

Perhaps ‘warpping’ may not involve folding space at all. Perhaps you just create a field around you and move as an electron does in an already flowing electric current in space. Aren’t some plasma flows pushing particles at almost light speeds?

NASA’s, IBEX is mapping the Electromagnetic fields. Perhaps it is providing a map of the galactic electric highway spaceway system.
Good times ahead for TREKnology, IMO.

“Get ready for the spaceship ‘Enterprise!” –Buzz Aldren (CNN)

The replicator will be here within our lifetime. –James Burke (Connections, etc)

Follow up: Doing a search on, ‘John Holdren’, President Obama’s science advisor comes up with articles on MHD(Magnetohydrodynamic) technology.


:crosses fingers :

The Bush plan was unworkable from Day 1. It never received the funding required and would have involved abandoning the International Space Station almost as soon as it was completed. Also, the Bush plan would have retired the shuttles on the premise that Orion would be ready by 2014, still a 4 year lapse. Orion and Constellation represented absolutely nothing in terms of technological advances, relying on the same old chemical rockets that would take 6 months or a year to get to Mars.

Unlike the Bush plan, Obama’s plan is fully funded. It also recognizes that the US government cannot afford to maintain low Earth orbit operations and manned exploration simultaneously. In order to achieve a realistic hope of getting back to the Moon and going to Mars, NASA must cede these more routine operations to the private sector, where there is a potential business model that makes sense in the relatively short term. That will enable NASA to get back into the deep space exploration business in a manner that has not been possible since Apollo.

NASA has not had a viable manned exploration program since the early 1970s. It is unfortunate that the Nixon Administration and Congress chose to pull back from space exploration at a time when new technologies (such as NERVA – nuclear propulsion) were ready for full scale testing. We could have had a permanent colony on the Moon and have gone to Mars for now if not for the short-sighted Cold War perspective of those times. But that’s all water under the bridge.

We’re now in a time when high deficits and economic troubles make it just about impossible for the government to send additional tens of billions of dollars toward the space program. Obama has at least found a way to keep a viable development program in place that sets the table for the future. I think that he could have done a better job selling it before this week, but overall I think it’s probably the right way to go given our current circumstances.

There are both positives and negatives to this approach. First, let me state that I tend to lean more to the right politically. However, not all decisions made by this administration are a complete disaster. I think that this might end up to be one that is in the “win” column.

As much as I believe that the Constellation program was a viable one for lunar exploration, for the longer term goal of Mars and other celestial objects, there needed to be a lot more horsepower to reach those destinations than chemical rocketry. An approach like the VASIMR propulsion rocket being designed by the Ad Astra Rocket company looks to be promising and is being looked at right now for ISS reboost.

If the economy hadn’t tanked, I would’ve like to see the old program continue along with these and other technologies being pursued. But, times got tough, and tough luck to Constellation and the great NASA employees on that program.

Also, for those that complain about the Orion capsule as a step backward as opposed to shuttle type configuration for the next program, a capsule is a much more efficient shape for re-entry at the speeds that a long-range mission would entail.

I don’t see how this will change anything.

NASA still stuck in LEO with everyone crossing their fingers that foam doesn’t result in another orbiter or heavy pay load launch.

The Heavy Lift Rocket program cancelled.

No chance of the Ares with a reusable SRB single launcher to keep manned space flight costs down.

The old trying to put heavy lift and crew together that’s kept us stuck in LEO since the 1960s.

Oh and we are going to goto Mars when we can’t even make it to the Moon or near Earth asteroids. Continue to drink cool aid since NASA will have more experience at that then trying to refine water into hydrogen and air on another planet in the next 50 years. Forget in-situ resource utilization techniques.

Fully funded Trek to nowhere from the States. If only we still had some Avro employees for you to steal to give you a real plan like in the 60s.

As once said space exploratuin will need team players Goverment, private industies actualy it needs to be global not only to share expenses and be cost effective. Its a matter of it “takes a village” for a good space program. One movie had a cosmonaut saying russian ship,american ship no differance all parts made in Tiawan!”

I’ve gone back & forth on this for a while now and think maybe it is time for a private company such as SpaceX to ferry astronauts to the station so NASA can work on getting to Mars. I read earlier in the month about the VASIMR plasma rocket – could get to Mars in 40 or so days, hopfully someone @ NASA would consider somehting like that.

Personaly I don’t think NASA should ever have been in the position of they are in with no alternate to the shuttle. I know they have budgets but NASA should have been working on the shuttle’s replacement since the Challenger disaster in ’86. It could have been designed & tested, ready to a few months after the last shuttle landed instead of waiting until 2015 before a design is approved.

@enterprise fan I completely agree with you, NASA’s low earth orbit operations have truly sabotaged humanity’s expansion into space. The space shuttle was sold to congress on its ability to achieve 10 launches per year, being profitable for NASA by launching commercial payloads. The only problem is that shuttle was only partially reusable and became extremely expensive to maintain. NASA sold the shuttle’s services WAY below cost, destroying the private sector’s ability to compete and develop more efficient launch vehicles. Innovative companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic probably would have started a decade earlier if it weren’t for the shuttle.

@CNP The Ares I would not have kept manned spaceflight costs down. Nothing done by the government is efficient or cost effective, that is why private industry is needed to fill in after NASA has moved on. NASA is only needed to take on the challenges that are impossible for the private industry, like deep space exploration or a manned mission to mars. Endeavors like these create the initial investment in infrastructure and technical know-how to allow private companies to take over and make things economical

I thought the whole goal of Bush’s Constellation plan and returning to the Moon was to make a staging area from which we could launch a mission to Mars on a theoretically smaller budget and more efficient spacecraft?

Plus, weren’t there possible valuable resources recently found on the Moon that it was worth going back for? I know that we just found out that we can make our own water & rocket fuel up there and wouldn’t have to bring it up from Earth, am I right?

What does going after an asteroid have to do with going after Mars? Are there even any viable asteroids within range that would be worth the extra effort instead of going back to the Moon and/or just going straight for Mars?

This just sounds like more placating a possible group of voters to me, just like that little bill he signed a week ago regarding drilling for oil off the American continental shelf. It didn’t actually open up any sites for drilling, it just added some locations for study while closing others off that were previously scheduled to become open under a bill that Bush had signed a few years earlier…

This guy’s a master at the political shell game. And I mean that with all due respect.

I’m all for the idea of going to Mars, but it was a bad idea to cancel Constellation. We need to return to the moon as part of our space program. In fact, we should include a moon outpost as part of any space program. It’s only logical: ISS, then a manned moon outpost, then a manned mission to Mars.

Oh, and astronauts Armstrong and Lovell agree: Obama’s Plan is a bad idea and a step backwards. Nasa needs to move forward, not backward.

I honestly still have mixed feelings over this. I don’t like the idea of having to go to Russia to get our astronauts into space or the idea of using private companies, but I do agree with Obama’s goals in the long run. I do think a lunar outpost is a good long term goal, but looking at what the plan for it was, I can’t give it my support. To me going to Mars is the next logical step. However I do think that we need to design and build a new fleet of space shuttles for the 21’st century. I blame NASA for being short sighted and not preparing for the retirement of the current fleet without something ready to take its place. It is sad, however, that all of those workers in Florida are losing their jobs and that’s my single biggest issue with Obama’s plan. I think he should have found a way, even if he was getting rid of the Constellation program, to keep most of them employed. One thing I’d like to point out, though, is that for a topic on here that involves Obama I’m glad to see that for the most part this discussion has stayed civil and relevant on both sides. Good to see people on here are growing up.

International cooperation is a must!!!! So ironic since this is 2010 and that was the plot to 2010 was it not?

We can all HOPE for a Change in 2010 and 2012.

All we have here is more lip service from Barry. All he has to do is promise these things and the true believers will fall into line.

I would love to know how we are going to pay for 95% of all of these promises. I sure as hell refuse to pay higher taxes, and I don’t think the solution is to pass on a higher tax burder to others as well. That includes the “rich” and future generations.

A agree with a true hero, Neil Armstrong. This isn’t the solution. Out sourcing space exploration to private companies for exploration of Neptune or Pluto? Why would they fund that. Exploration has always been under the perview of Government. Did private enterprise fund Columbas? Or Magellan??

I will also say that I agree with those who find some of the actions here a little high handed. A political discussion is what is needed, not to be avoided. You cannot quiet the growing ranks of Americans who find that this nation is far, far off course!

Kennedy had vision, Obama has polls.

41 years ago, we landed men on the moon. So in that time we have not deleveloped better technology to get there? Which means getting out beyond the moon is impossible by using that same 1960s mechanics.

If you go to the Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas, you will see that we did indeed develope Atomic Rocket engines more powerful than the solid/liquid propelant rockets used in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Alas, they were never used for fear of one of the atomic rockets exploding on liftoff. Is the answer to build an Atomic rocket in space? Perhaps, perhaps not.

I just don’t see how it could take so long, it is not like we are really starting from scratch since we know the science and physics of rocket propulsion, we know how to design spacecraft and how to build it. We have the ability to build such things so why so long? Testing and waiting to see what may go wrong, I understand that, but we can speed it up.

The 1960’s had us in a space race with the Soviet Union which is no longer, so why not have a joint mission to Mars with Russia, they have the science. If China wants to spend their time & money going to the moon, great, let them. We have been there and planted our flag (not for territory, but as a symbol as who was there) a few times already.

I am all for getting there safely which is the way it should be, but we should get there and speed it up.

As for the plan in general, I would have liked to see a return to the Moon, but I don’t see it happening. Everyone is bashing Obama because space shuttle jobs are being lost? The reason Constellation was canceled was because it was ridiculously behind and over budget, and frankly there were concerns whether it would even work. I don’t know what the hell happened to US space science, but honestly even on Bush’s plan, when were we going to the Moon? 2020? Obama is pushing it off and rightly so. It was just going to be a money pit like the shuttle “program,” which was nothing more than a space truck for the defense department’s satellite surveillance.

40. Lt. Bailey – April 16, 2010

“41 years ago, we landed men on the moon. So in that time we have not deleveloped better technology to get there?”

Man this is the question nobody can answer. 1960’s technology, but 75 times the cost? Come on, what’s the point? We’re doing so much good science with robotic probes and telescopes. The astronauts moan and groan, but they aren’t scientists. Now, I would be more than happy with spend tons of money on NASA. And we could, if we shrink the absurdly over priced defense industry that. I would pay for Science over War any day.

There are actually many small private companies out there that are creating cutting edge space suits, manned rovors, space habitats, and devising ways to utilize the moon and its resources. You just never really hear about them. Just last year, some grad students and professors at Purdue (If i remember correctly) successfully launched a solid rocket motor made only of water ice and nano-scale aluminum, two materials that are present on the moon. I don’t think it really matters in the long term what goals Obama sets for NASA . The trick is for NASA to support these new, private space companies by creating demand for their products without getting in the way of their success. After that, everything should fall into place…only the private sector has the ability to create that vision of space we all dream about

#35- Roberta- Exactly.
#34 Eli- Thank YOU!
All we’re being offered are pipe dreams and illogical decisions made by a group of clueless politicians- and I should know, I work for a bunch of them.

I criticized NASA for Constellation originally for the lack of technological originality, but I came to realize (by LEARNING) how much sense it made and how flexible the system was to be.

Let’s see how private industry pulls this off. It truly is going to be a disaster.

warning to James Durdan for political trolling

people please try and debate policies without resorting to incendiary partisan rhetoric

I have mixed feelings about the new direction. I grew up in the Cape Canaveral area, my father worked there 1955-84. I was a kid during the collapse of the local economy when Apollo ended, and now it is happening again. We let thousands of people go and several years later when we needed them back for Shuttle, most of them were long gone. All that experience and knowledge was lost and had to be re-learned. Do we never learn? Kennedy Space Center employees mostly prepare and launch spacecraft, a job that no longer exists after 2010. A few of them can go to help the private companies, but they already have most of the people they need.

President Obama’s plan to spend a billion or two in upgrading Kennedy Space Center facilities to be a “21st Century Launch Site” is baffling without a launch vehicle to use them (all of the alternative launch vehicles already have their own launch facilities that are underused, and none of the private companies want anything to do with KSC and the high costs that come with it.) Mr. Obama announced that a new Heavy Lift Laucher will be picked in 2015. It will no doubt take at least five more years from then to build and field the HLV. So we’re paying to run KSC for the next 10 years while it does nothing? Mr. Obama’s critics make the very valid point that such spending will be easy pickin’s for cancellation in a year or two.

Orion will continue as a Space Station lifeboat. But it is not clear at all that we’ll need a lifeboat. If the private companies that build the new human space “taxis” can make them stay attached to the Space Station for six months (like Soyuz does) then we have no need for an Orion lifeboat. Orion was built to go beyond Earth orbit, and for any other purpose it is overkill. Again, this makes it easy to cancel in a year or two.

However, I agree with the President’s idea to cancel the boondoggle Ares rockets and foster private spaceflight. NASA hasn’t flown a new launch vehicle since 1981, and the Ares debacle (coming after the X-30 and X-33 fiascos) made it clear that NASA has lost the ability to design a workable launch vehicle. So let’s give that job to the people who actually have designed, built and fielded new launch vehicles in the last 30 years (Lockheed, Boeing, Orbital, and SpaceX.) Lesson Number One, which we learned in 1986: Don’t put human beings on top of solid rocket motors! (Which NASA was planning to do with Ares I.) Entrepeneurs have been saying they could do the job if only NASA would get out of their way, so let’s give them the chance. It’s time for them to put up or shut up.

I also agree with the President’s push for new technology. We need it, but it is unclear exactly what radical new technology somewhat significantly less than $6 billion will buy us in order to start building a new Heavy Lift Launcher in 2015. A new large engine will take longer than that (it was taking us longer than that just to revive the J-2 from Apollo for Constellation.) Anything else will take a LOT longer. VASIMIR sounds like an excellent design, but it has one big problem: it needs a nuclear reactor to be effective. This President is pro-nuclear (confounding both his supporters and his critics) but our existing and near-term launch vehicle technology is unlikely to be much better than about 98% reliable, meaning there is a 1-in-50 chance that the nuclear reactor could go kablooey in a launch failure. That makes it nearly politically impossible.

I know Anthony portrays this blog as non-political, but really, Anthony when we can all plainly see your political leanings, do you think you are succeeding? Obviously you’re a fan.

Anyway, for the REAL story of how Obama is destroying our space program, read this letter from Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, and James Lovell, published yesterday.

Real space fans might recognize the authors as the first man on the moon, the last man on the moon, and the commander of Apollo 13. They are probably better judges of what is REALLY happenning to NASA than blog authors, invested bureaucrats, and actors. Obama is going to be the first president in ALMOST 50 years to leave America a third rate country with zero ability to put a man in space without paying a foreign country. We are going from leaders to paying tourists. I can’t possibly imaging why the real story goes goes suspiciously unmentioned in this entire cheerleading article.

I will confess I’ve skipped through a lot of the responses on this article, as it’s late here in Ireland, and I’ve had a long day. However… Signore Pascale @ #5 and #11, jpolk, have fairly much summed up my opinion on the matter from my point of view as being from a neutral country yet having a major interest in today’s space exploration. When Obama cancelled the Constellation programme, I was seriously disappointed. In saying that, his proposal today has more than quantified his need to cancel said programme. He wants to look beyond where anyone has gone before. And that is admirable. While we may not learn much more, scientifically, as a race from setting foot on an asteroid or on Mars, we will learn so much more about long-term space travel. And furthermore, think back to JFK’s speeches on how it was his ambition to set man on the moon. And think back to the feelings of positivity and optimism that was around the place when he announced it, and again, when it finally happened. I think the world, as a whole, needs something like that. A common goal, that steps above borders and boundaries and other obstacles. Without sounding cheesy, this is the true spirit of 23rd and 24th century Star Trek in the 21st century; stepping beyond our means, testing the waters in areas that might be uncomfortable, and giving people a reason to celebrate when it goes right.

As for the private industry “space shuttle” solution…. I’m not so sure. I haven’t taken enough time to think about this yet. The Orbiter was a great vehicle, but considering two of the fleet of five operational craft (not including Enterprise in this) failed in some way, and considering the amount of sortees flown (relative to, say, a combat aircraft), the fleet lasted well beyond it’s years, and long past it’s capabilities. It was far from a perfect design. A perfect design may not be attainable, but I think some kind of public/private partnership (NASA will, after all, have to approve the final product once it’s proven it’s worthiness) may be just what the administration needs. NASA will not have a re-usable orbital vehicle ready in the allotted time. That much was clear for a long time, despite all the wonderful diagrams, schematics and models we were shown on the Discovery channel. The injection of private money, plus a private company’s necessity for things to be done on time, and done right (especially considering how much in the public eye such a project would be, in terms of safety, especially) may be the key to extend NASA’s orbital future, and not fall behind Russia’s continued use of the decades-old Soyuz platform.

All in all, this speech from Obama, as an outsider, is the most exciting thing in terms of space exploration in my 26 years on Earth, comparable to JFK’s speech about sending man to the moon “before the decade is out”. That was in the 1960s. Our capability has grown at a completely disproportionately slow rate.

And remember, Kennedy didn’t get to see man on the moon either. Maybe Obama won’t be president when it happens on an asteroid or Mars. But for it to happen before 2020, if the right attitude is behind it, it could happen, and hopefully it will. Because without that kind of hope, the fantasy of Star Trek will never exist as a reality.

Hold on a second.

“Many were hoping for a goal of sending men to Mars by a specified date, and in this case, the president delivered.”

No he didn’t. There’s no specified date. He’s speaking generally about sometime in the middle of a decade which itself is a decade away before starting:

“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. And I expect to be around to see it.”

This is far from a Kennedy promise to land on the moon before the decade is over.

Odkin… “Real space fans might recognize the authors as the first man on the moon, the last man on the moon, and the commander of Apollo 13. They are probably better judges of what is REALLY happenning to NASA than blog authors, invested bureaucrats, and actors”

History-making astronauts, much as I admire them, are hardly impartial observers, however. They are among the elite few who got to go into space on the old NASA “Big Government” program. They are among those who most-benefited from the old Big Government program (some of them had Corvettes lavished upon them by local car dealers and got juicy book and endorsement contracts.) Is it any wonder they’re opposed to changing that? Worse, when was the last time they had anything to do with NASA, other than the occasional anniversary photo-op?