President Obama Puts US All In For Mars

In the waning days of his presidency, Barack Obama has made a bold statement in favor of the US getting to Mars. Obama didn’t mince any words in his opinion piece written for CNN. He said that America’s next goal in space is “…sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.”

President Obama has long been a proponent of a strong presence in space for the US, and of the science and technology that supports those efforts. He has argued for healthy NASA budgets in his time, and under his administration, NASA has reached some major milestones.

“Last year alone, NASA discovered flowing water on Mars and evidence of ice on one of Jupiter’s moons, and we mapped Pluto — more than 3 billion miles away — in high-resolution,” Obama said. He also mentioned the ongoing successful hunt for exoplanets, and the efforts to understand asteroids.

Some of his work in support of space and science in general has been more symbolic. His annual White House Science Fairs in particular. He was the first president to hold these fairs, and he hosted 6 of them during his 8 years in office.

Presidents go different directions once they leave office. Some keep a low profile (Bush Jr.), some get targeted for assassination (Bush Sr.), and some become advocates for humanitarian efforts and global peace (Jimmy Carter.) But Obama made it clear that his efforts to promote America’s efforts in space won’t end when his presidency ends. “This week, we’ll convene some of America’s leading scientists, engineers, innovators and students in Pittsburgh to dream up ways to build on our progress and find the next frontiers,” Obama said.

In his piece, Obama gave a laundry list of the USA’s achievements in space. He also pointed out that “Just five years ago, US companies were shut out of the global commercial launch market.” Now they own a third of that market. And, according to Obama, they won’t stop there.

In 2010 he set a goal for American space efforts: to reach Mars by the 2030s. “The next step is to reach beyond the bounds of Earth’s orbit. I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space.” He didn’t elaborate on this in his opinion piece, but it will be interesting to hear more.

Other presidents have come out strongly in favor of efforts in space. The first one was Eisenhower, and Obama mentioned him in his piece. Eisenhower is the one who created NASA in 1958, though it was called NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) at the time. This put America’s space efforts in civilian control rather than military.

President Kennedy got the Apollo program off the ground in 1961. Image: White House Press Office (WHPO)
President Kennedy got the Apollo program off the ground in 1961. Image: White House Press Office (WHPO)

President Kennedy asked Congress in 1961 to commit to the Apollo program, an effort to get a man on the Moon before the 60s ended. Apollo achieved that, of course, but with only a few months to spare. Kennedy’s successor, President Lyndon Johnson, was a staunch supporter of NASA’s Apollo Program, especially in the wake of disaster.

In 1967 the entire Apollo 1 crew was killed in a fire while testing the craft on its launch pad. The press erupted after that, and Congress began to question the Apollo Program, but Johnson stood firmly in NASA’s corner.

Like some other Presidents before him, Obama has always been a good orator. That was in full view when he ended his piece with these words: “Someday, I hope to hoist my own grandchildren onto my shoulders. We’ll still look to the stars in wonder, as humans have since the beginning of time.”

The focus has really been on Mars lately, and with Obama’s continued support, maybe humans will make it to Mars in the next decade or two. Then, from the surface of that planet, we can do what we’ve always done: continue to look to the stars with a sense of wonder.

Famous “Last” Words for the Shuttle Program

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Friday July 8, 2011 was a significant historic day for NASA – one that will go down in history as the day of the final space shuttle launch. Here are a few of the historic “last” words spoken by the launch control team and the astronauts just before Atlantis headed off into history, as well as words from some other notable folks after the launch:

Launch director Mike Leinbach always has some final words to tell the astronauts awaiting on the launch pad that the launch team has all given a “go” for launch. Here’s his send-off:

Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach talks with reporters. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

“OK, Fergie, (commander Chris Ferguson) we’re starting to feel pretty good here on the ground about this one today, so on behalf of the greatest team in the world, good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of this true American icon. And so for the final time, Fergie, Doug, Sandy and Rex, good luck, Godspeed and have a little fun up there.”

The final Space Shuttle Crew for STS 135. The crew was greeted and given a rousing sendoff of cheers by hundreds of journalists and NASA employees and managers. From left: Mission Specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus, Pilot Doug Hurley Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson. Credit: Ken Kremer

In reply, Ferguson said, “Hey, thanks to you and your team, Mike and until the very end, you all made it look easy. The shuttle’s always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through. We’re not ending the journey today, Mike, we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. You and the thousands of men and women who gave their hearts, souls and their lives to the cause of exploration. Let’s light this fire one more time, Mike, and witness this nation at its best.”

Another very touching send-off was from the members of the close-out crew at the launchpad, who held up a series of signs in front of the camera in the white room that gave this message:

“On behalf of all who have designed and built…
Serviced & loaded… launched & controlled…
Operated & flown these magnificent space vehicles…
Thanks for 30 years with our nations’ space shuttles
Godspeed Atlantis.
God bless America”

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden released a video statement after the launch:

US President Barack Obama released his own statement after the launch. (Not the reference to going to Mars, which may be the most direct statement made by a president about the US space program intending to go to the Red Planet):

“Today, Americans across the country watched with pride as four of our fellow citizens blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and America reached for the heavens once more.

Behind Atlantis and her crew of brave astronauts stand thousands of dedicated workers who have poured their hearts and souls into America’s Space Shuttle program over the past three decades. To them and all of NASA’s incredible workforce, I want to express my sincere gratitude. You helped our country lead the space age, and you continue to inspire us each day.

“Today’s launch may mark the final flight of the Space Shuttle, but it propels us into the next era of our never-ending adventure to push the very frontiers of exploration and discovery in space. We’ll drive new advances in science and technology. We’ll enhance knowledge, education, innovation, and economic growth. And I have tasked the men and women of NASA with an ambitious new mission: to break new boundaries in space exploration, ultimately sending Americans to Mars. I know they are up to the challenge – and I plan to be around to see it.

Congratulations to Atlantis, her astronauts, and the people of America’s space program on a picture-perfect launch, and good luck on the rest of your mission to the International Space Station, and for a safe return home. I know the American people share my pride at what we have accomplished as a nation, and my excitement about the next chapter of our preeminence in space.”

Do you have any last words for the space shuttle program?