President Obama Tries to Explain His Space Policy to Houston

Mark Whittington – Sat Nov 5, 6:56 pm ET

President Barack Obama’s space policy, which included the cancellation of the Constellation space exploration program, fell heaviest on Texas, where NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center is located.

Recently, Houston news anchor Dave Ward asked the president about his space policy in regards to Texas.

What did the president say?

President Obama maintained the Constellation program was canceled because it was behind schedule and over budget, perhaps making it one of the few programs that have been canceled by the current administration for that reason. He further suggested that NASA needed to be “retooled” to make the next great leap into space.

What did the president mean by “retool?”

Obama laid out his space plan on April 15, 2010, some months after he canceled Constellation. His plan at the time consisted of the following:

* Build a “rescue vehicle” based on technology developed for the Orion, a space craft developed under Constellation.

* Spend $3 billion in research to develop a heavy lift launcher to begin building in 2015.

* Develop other space exploration technologies.

* Increase NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the following five years.

* Go to an Earth approaching asteroid by 2025, Mars orbit by 2035 and land on Mars some time later.

* Bypass the moon because “We’ve been there before. Buzz has been there.” “Buzz” was Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo moonwalker who was in the audience and, at the time, supported the Obama space initiative.

* Go all in on President George W. Bush’s commercial space initiative, proposing to spend nearly $6 billion in subsidies to create a commercial space craft to take cargo and crew to the International Space Station.

How has the “retooling” effort worked out?

Congress has changed Obama’s plan considerably. A fully capable Orion spacecraft, sometimes subbed the “Multi Purpose Crewed Vehicle,” is under development. Instead of waiting until 2015, work on a heavy lift vehicle, known as the Space Launch System, has started this year. NASA’s budget is not increasing this year or for the foreseeable future. It is, in fact, getting cut.

The one bright spot may be the commercial crew program. But even it has run into trouble, with congressional skepticism on the rise and the commercial partners and NASA in conflict over how much control the space agency will have over commercial spacecraft development. Funding for commercial crew has been cut under the administration’s request.

What about the asteroid mission?

That is still officially on NASA’s manifest. But the moon is starting to creep back into NASA planning, a landing to take place before the asteroid mission. There are several reasons for this, primarily because the moon is close, readily accessible and has valuable resources such as water ice.

In the same local Houston interview, STS 135 commander Capt. Christopher Ferguson stated a good goal for NASA would be to send a crew to the moon and maintain it there for six months to a year. The crew of STS 135 was at the White House to meet with the president on the day of the interview.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times and The Weekly Standard.

Note: This article was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Join the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own articles.

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