Negative reaction to the president's initial plan for NASA has forced him to backpedal a bit and offer a schedule for human spaceflights to Mars and an asteroid. He now needs to work more closely with Congress to set long-term, deep-space missions.
Too many Americans and lawmakers reacted negatively to the initial White House plan for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They still see human exploration to specific destinations in space as a compelling frontier – not just for the nation but humanity, too. They weren’t ready to live only vague promises of deep-space missions, as Mr. Obama made. Nor do they want the space agency more focused on earthly tasks such as climate-change monitoring, as Obama would prefer, over scientific discovery in outer space.
The public reaction pushed the president on Thursday to set a timetable for the first Mars trip – by the mid-2030s – as well as a schedule to land on an asteroid (near 2025). He also had to set 2015 for starting construction of a heavy-lift launcher based on new innovative technology.
But Obama only partially backed down on his proposal to cancel a Bush-era program called Constellation. That project, now over budget, would return Americans to the moon to do more research and to tap that body’s frozen water for making fuel for lunar launches to Mars and beyond. While he still wants to stop production of the Ares rockets for the moon mission, Obama did backpedal a bit by offering to keep the planned Orion crew-ship – but only as an emergency vehicle to escape the International Space Station.
Even Neil Armstrong, the first human on the moon, opposes an end to the moon project, partly because other nations, especially China, are gearing up to land there in the years ahead. America’s leadership in space would be in jeopardy.