President Barack Obama during his speech at Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

Obama Wants Mission to Asteroid by 2025, Mars by mid-2030’s

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015

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Speaking at Kennedy Space Center, President Barack Obama discussed his plans for NASA which includes sending astronauts to a nearby asteroid by 2025 and going to Mars by the mid-2030’s. “Let me start by being extremely clear,” Obama said. “I am 100 per cent committed to the mission of NASA and its future because broadening our capabilities in space will continue to serve us in ways we can hardly imagine.” Obama’s plan, which includes the $6 billion in additional funds for NASA over the next five years that was previously announced and using a scaled-down version of the Orion spacecraft as a rescue vehicle for the International Space Station.

Also, Obama committed funds for research now to build a heavy-lift rocket starting in 2015 — or earlier — to launch astronauts and payloads to missions beyond the Moon.

“By 2025 we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first ever crew missions beyond the Moon into deep space,” Obama said. “So, we’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. 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.”

Obama at KSC. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.


Obama said his program of partnering with commercial space companies allows for more missions launched from Kennedy Space Center, an acceleration of advanced technologies that will allow for better space transportation systems and a shortening of the dependence on Russian rockets.

The president made no mention of any extension to the space shuttle program, which was one rumor that floated around before his speech.

Norm Augustine, before the president's speech. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

Speaking after the President, Norm Augustine – who headed the Augustine Commission review of NASA’s future, said that the new program is very close to one of the options his panel offered (option 5-B) and this path would be “worthy of a great nation, and be able to transform NASA from transportation to exploration.” Augustine also pointed out that we seem more eager to accept current Russian technology than to encourage future of our own private industry.

Buzz Aldrin flew with President Obama to Kennedy Space Center in Air Force One. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today


The White House Chief Science Advisor John Holdren said Obama’s plan is a “faster pace to space, with more missions sooner and more affordably.” He said it’s a more visionary approach as it expands commercial capability and allows NASA to devote its resources to exploring deep space.

Obama discussed his space plan at the Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center, the same building used to build the Orion spacecraft. This is the first time in 12 years a sitting U.S. president has visited KSC.

The plan was originally unveiled on Feb 1, 2010, and the proposal to cancel the Constellation program and use commercial companies for trips to LEO was met with harsh criticism from members of Congress and many former astronauts, including a letter from Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan and Jim Lovell who called the plan “devastating” the legacy of US space leadership.

Today, however, before the president’s speech, Elon Musk from SpaceX – whose Falcon 9 spacecraft will launch a test flight perhaps next month – issued a statement that lauded Obama’s plan to end Constellation.

“The President quite reasonably concluded that spending $50 billion to develop a vehicle that would cost 50% more to operate, but carry 50% less payload was perhaps not the best possible use of funds. To quote a member of the Augustine Commission, which was convened by the President to analyze Ares/Orion, ‘If Santa Claus brought us the system tomorrow, fully developed, and the budget didn’t change, our next action would have to be to cancel it,’ because we can’t afford the annual operating costs.”

“Cancellation was therefore simply a matter of time,” Musk continued, “and thankfully we have a President with the political courage to do the right thing sooner rather than later. We can ill afford the expense of an “Apollo on steroids”, as a former NASA Administrator referred to the Ares/Orion program. A lesser President might have waited until after the upcoming election cycle, not caring that billions more dollars would be wasted. It was disappointing to see how many in Congress did not possess this courage.”

By choosing KSC to make his speech Obama hoped to bring home that his program will add more 2,500 jobs compared to plan under previous administration.

“We will modernize KSC, creating jobs as we upgrade launch facilities, and bringing the potential for more jobs as companies come here to compete for launch projects. This is an area prime to lead in this competition.”

Afterwards, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said, “It’s special when a president talks about you but it’s even more special when he comes to visit.”

Readers, what are your thoughts on Obama’s program for NASA, and his speech?

A gallery of images from the President’s speech by Alan Walters, in attendance representing Universe Today.

Space personalities Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jim Bell at Obama's speech at KSC. Image credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

Bill Nye, The Science Guy

Leland Melvin was one of many astronauts in attendance at KSC. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden introduced President Obama. Image Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Aqua4U
Member
April 15, 2010 4:08 PM

I’d like to have heard a response to Russia’s President Medvedev’s proposal on Gagarin’s Day, for a space faring nation’s summit meeting…. overall this was an encouraging speech, I just wish there had been a more of an international flavor to it.

Olaf
Member
Olaf
April 15, 2010 1:17 PM

Heavy lift and astronauts on an astreoid by 2015 is a good direction. We have a goal.

So when do they start building the asteroid lander?

clatonium
Member
clatonium
April 15, 2010 1:29 PM

Mars is far. i think if you’re going to send astronauts there, you should put some boots on the ground. This is so weird.

Craigboy
Member
Craigboy
April 15, 2010 1:53 PM

It’s 2025, not 2015.

brundall
Member
brundall
April 15, 2010 1:55 PM

Somebody remind me why going to an asteroid is a good idea?

Harbles
Member
Harbles
April 15, 2010 2:09 PM

Many new capabilities need to be developed.
Higher Specific Impulse propulsion! Critical for deep space missions. Vasmir Looks promising.
On orbit Cryo propellant transfer and storage.
Developing long duration highly closed cycle space habitat with Radiation shielding and preferably some centrifugally produced gravity.
Aero braking to descend from distant orbit and rendezvous with ISS.
etc etc etc . . .

Lots of stuff to figure out. It takes lots of smart people.

CrazyEddieBlogger
Member
April 15, 2010 2:14 PM

Brundall – for a couple of reasons:

– it’s a “medium duration flight” – longer than a few days, but not the 3 years of mars-and-back

– it doesn’t have the mars EDL challenges

– Asteroid science is important for asteroid mitigation

– Asteroids/comets tell us a lot about the solar system.

I was hoping he’d cover all of this in his talk, I’m glad he did.

Restoration
Member
Restoration
April 15, 2010 2:21 PM
IMO Constellation was a great idea in its original conception but how it actually ended up being executed caused its downfall. If done properly, it could have provided a great opportunity for expanding our space exploration capabilities. Well, now realizing that it has failed (for various reasons)… this is an excellent course of action to take in order to free up LEO to Commercial Agency’s (SpaceX could likely dominate transportation to the ISS with the Falcon 9 and Dragon Capsule). Now, this being said: -When will the development of this new “Heavy Lift Launcher” start? -Are we planning on actually stepping up our launch capabilities to the next level (electrical/ion engines) instead of using liquid fuel? -When will… Read more »
Restoration
Member
Restoration
April 15, 2010 2:23 PM

Actually, I have not seen a video of the entire speech yet so I cannot say he did not adress the above questions but this is based on what the article relayed! I apologize for anything that I depicted inaccurately.

Drunk Vegan
Member
April 15, 2010 3:13 PM
“Mars is far. i think if you’re going to send astronauts there, you should put some boots on the ground. This is so weird.” — Agreed.. there is little point in “practicing” orbiting around Mars in a crewed vehicle. We’ve got plenty of experience orbiting planets – pretty much all we’ve been doing for the last 40 years. — “Somebody remind me why going to an asteroid is a good idea?” — Because we need to learn how to operate on and around asteroids if we’re to have any hope of deflecting one that’s headed for Earth.. it’s far preferable that we learn those skills *before* an asteroid is threatening millions of lives. It’ll also come in handy… Read more »
Uncle Fred
Member
Uncle Fred
April 15, 2010 3:59 PM

Wow! This is the kind of talk I wanted to hear. However I really want more of the nitty-gritty:

1. When will work on a heavy lifter start? Can they adapt existing plans to speedup/cheapen the development time?

2. Why not just shoot for a orbit and Mars landing. We already have a Asteroid landing. Cheapen it up and combine the orbit with the landing. Human space exploration is mostly to please the public anyway and I’m sure the public want to see a landing if you bother to go all the way to Mars.

3. Is the funding REALLY in place? What guarantees this isn’t all hot air A.K.A Bush’s plans?

hal9000
Member
hal9000
April 15, 2010 4:05 PM

An asteroid? Which one?

Dark Gnat
Member
Dark Gnat
April 15, 2010 5:14 PM

Sounds like every other “I support NASA, really I do!” speech. It’s really not much different than Bush’s, Clinton’s, Bush’s Reagan’s.

I wish I could say I’m excited, but I’ve heard it all before.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 15, 2010 9:52 PM
Qs: stepping up our launch capabilities to the next level (electrical/ion engines) You can’t launch with them. They are for interplanetary space use. Could we not convert the current work being done on the Altair Lunar Lander from Constellation like we are trying to salvage the Orion Capsule? What is needed is precisely the Orion, since it has interplanetary space capabilities (long duration use, low solar power use, heavy duty heat shield). Maybe that is why Obama tries to preserve the technology for menial, albeit costly, duties meanwhile. The requirements to land on an asteroid is steering thrusters. And perhaps a bolt gun to anchor stuff with… I’d rather see them upgrade the Falcon 9 rather than make… Read more »
TerryG
Member
April 15, 2010 6:44 PM

Brilliant! NASA is finally emerging from the dark ages. No longer a glorified LEO taxi company, no longer eyes fixed through a rear view mirror at the Moon, but taking aim at something new and exciting and on the fast track.

The comments above are the most positive they have been for a long time.

NASA can hold it’s head up and take pride. Welcome back.

Procyan
Member
Procyan
April 15, 2010 6:50 PM

I would echo Aqua’s point. The USA and other space faring countries must find a way to transcend the mindset of competition that served NASA circa 1960/70’s. Remember even then it was frameworked “in peace for all mankind”. Imagine the possible outcomes of cooperation now one hundred years hence. And the converse?

Errm, just a moment…just a moment…that would require USA brushing up on those pesky SI units…nevermind.

bigstevie
Member
bigstevie
April 15, 2010 7:05 PM

I agree with TerryG. It’s good to see some optimism amongst enthusiasts again. If you want to see the uninformed and luddites’ reactions just go on over to Yahoo! News and read the comments there.

I’m also glad that there’s funding to go along with the new strategy…

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
April 15, 2010 7:24 PM

Obama’s presidency ends in 2016, at best.
None of this will happen unless his successors are far bigger space fans than he’s proven to be.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 15, 2010 9:30 PM
Some early reflections then: – It is encouraging to see a president that is so interested in space and for the right reasons. (“broadening our capabilities in space will continue to serve us in ways we can hardly imagine.”) – It is encouraging to see that Obama is indeed possessing the courage to make the right decisions as well, as Musk notes. – It is _not_ encouraging to have see wrong decisions lacking courage (being politically savvy) at the same time. Yesterday I believed that Dragon hadn’t the capabilities to serve as a longtime rescue return vehicle. Apparently according to Musk it has. So why the expense of Orion? – It is _not_ encouraging to see speculations of… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
April 15, 2010 10:05 PM
Qs: We already have a Asteroid landing. No one has landed men on an asteroid what I know of. And it would have made the news, wouldn’t it? Or if you refer to unmanned landings, then your argument to go to space needs a reassessment. Asteroid exploration is vital. For example, we don’t have, but would like to have, a time table for early Earth and when/how life started. Asteroids help us with that. (In that sense, Moon exploration is even more vital. Alas, now it has to be by robotics. Oh, well.) Also, it is the next step in difficulty. (Duration, delta-v, but not difficult landing requirements.) Why not just shoot for a orbit and Mars landing.… Read more »
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