February 23, 2020

15.04.10: President Obama Addresses the Space Coast.

President Obama made a short stop to speak at the Kennedy Space Center today on his way to Miami. He was greeted by both space enthusiasts and nervous NASA employees who rightly wonder about the ultimate fate of their jobs as a result of the ending of the Space Shuttle program later this year. Would his speech be a Kennedy-esque vision or a consolation prize?

Itís a truism that when Kennedy spoke we didn’t even know how to reach LEO; 8 years later, we were on the Moon. That’s the kind of vision we need. Obamaís last visit to Florida didnít fill NASA fans with a lot of hope; not only did he essentially nix the Constellation, but his promised ďtrain to DisneylandĒ seemed like a bit of a snub. Mind you, we like this PrezÖ during the election, he was the only candidate that could speak articulately about science. Still, there seems to be a certain reluctance for the current administration to do something truly visionary.

The vision for Apollo was also paralleled with an increase in science education, which in turn minted a whole new generation of engineers and scientists. Although Constellation has been nixed, talk around the astro-blogosphere has said for about a week now that the Orion/Ares I will find a second life as an ISS escape vehicle. Such a craft would have to be man-rated, thus the 5 billion + already sunk into research and development isnít for naught. There had also been vague scuttle-butt about a heavy lift platform by 2015, and of course a reprieve for the Shuttle, although the true problem with this is that the company that manufactured the disposable external tanks ceased production some time ago. Resumption would still mean perhaps a years-long gap.

Today, however, the President unfolded the expected vision, with a few twists;

-††††††††† NASA will get the expected 6 billion dollar budget increase over the next 5 years.

-††††††††† 3 billion will be put into research and development of a heavy lift rocket capable of getting us into deep space. The plans will consider pre-existing designs as well as new concepts. A design will be selected by 2015.

-††††††††† By 2025, we should have the capability of reaching an Earth-crossing asteroid. The President didnít mention it by name, but alluded to Apophis, which makes a close pass in April, 2029. By the 2030ís we will have Mars orbit capability.

-††††††††† The deadline for a new NASA initiative will be on the Presidentís desk by August 15th of this year.

ďIím 100% committed to the mission of NASA and its future,Ē the President stated. An additional 5 year extension for the ISS was hinted at, but no reprieve for the Shuttle. A silent sigh from some astronomers may be noted, as the James Webb Space Telescope was safe in the Presidentís rhetoric. (Sorry to correct you though, Mr President; the JWST isnít truly a Hubble predecessor, as itíll work mostly in the infrared. And unlike HST, itíll be beyond reach of astronaut house calls!)

Overall, we thought the Presidentís speech was optimistic, as he laid out some brass tacks and specifics. He even ranged toward the legendary Kennedy speech in his paradigm; Asteroid=2025, Mars=2030. Letís see, Iíll be 62 by thenÖ

In closing, the President voiced his support for NASA, stating; ďfor pennies on the dollarÖ NASA has improved our lives, and inspired Americans.Ē Perhaps the only shortfall in his speech was the fact although he mentioned the drive towards science education in the Apollo era, he failed to make a similar pledge today. That hurts a bit, as a science teacher in training. The production of a science literate public was the true gift of Apollo. Weíll see; after all, those Mars-bound astronauts have to get educated somehow!

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