Lawmakers skeptical of Obama's NASA plan

April 16, 2010 3:42:36 AM PDT
While the president was well-received here at the Kennedy Space Center, his plan is getting mixed reviews at home. Still, he says there should be no question now about his commitment to space exploration.

President Barak Obama used words today like "bold", "ambitious" and "significant" to describe the shift in focus he is proposing for NASA.

"And so, as President, I believe that space exploration is not a luxury, it's not an afterthought in America's quest for a brighter future," Obama said.

This vision changes the mission from the return to the moon planned under the Constellation program to the long-range goal of landing man on Mars, the President says by the mid 2030s.

That requires construction of a new heavy lift rocket, whether it would look anything like the areas which NASA developed and tested as part of the constellation program, the President says is unclear. But he says one will be built by 2015.

"We want to look at new designs, new materials, new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there," Obama said.

Specifics include the resuscitation of one portion of the Constellation program, the "Orion" crew capsule. A stripped down version would be built and flown unmanned to the International Space Station to be used only as an emergency escape vehicle, limiting US dependence on the Russians.

The life of the International Space Station would also be extended five years to 2020. Whether the space shuttle's final flights will be extended into 2011 or beyond is still unclear.

"He's presented a plan that I've looked at as an onion, and we've got to peel that onion and find where we've got to roll up our sleeves and work," U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said.

Regardless, some say there's no mistaking the period of time that will exist when the U.S. still won't have its own vehicle on which to access space.

"Unfortunately there is a gap," Rep. Pete Olson said. "We're gonna be dependent on the Russians to take our astronauts up to and from Earth to the space station."

Every seat on a Russian Soyuz costs $50 million. The president is trying to minimize the time without a U.S. space ship by spending millions as seed money for private companies to build a new vehicle.

Olson is among Texas congressional delegation questioning if this path is the right one for NASA.

"All he talked about was Kennedy and bringing money to Kennedy to mitigate some of their job losses," Olson said. "And again he's our president, he's America's President and he needs to realize that the Kennedy Space Center is no different than the Johnson Space Center, the Marshal Space Center or any space center."

It's worth noting this proposal is not a done deal. It still must be approved by Congress.


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