During a brief joint press availability featuring President Bush and Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez a reporter asked Bush if he felt that the shuttle’s return to flight was premature. His extended response:
First of all, I had the honor of speaking to the — the folks of — that are on that mission. And it was a great experience to be talking to bold explorers. And, secondly, like a lot of Americans, I was amazed at the procedures that took place to repair the craft. It’s pretty remarkable. I believe that — I believe that the mission is important, and I know that the mission directors will make the right decision about how to proceed.
Ours is a country that values the safety of our citizens, particularly those we ask to take risk in space. And there will be a lot of deliberation, a lot of thought that goes into the decision as to whether or not those brave souls can — should return on that vehicle. And I know that NASA has been very closely in touch with the White House. Andy Card has been in touch with the Administrator on a regular basis. But I’ve got the confidence — all the confidence that they will make the right decision.
Let me also say that it is important for our fellow citizens to understand that we’re going to take the NASA mission beyond the current mission, that we’ll be using — we want — the plan right now is to phase out the shuttle by 2010, and then begin to put a strategy in place that will use the moon as a launching spot for further exploration.
I know the — at least the people I’ve talked to inside NASA are excited about the mission, the reinvigoration of the vision of exploration. And I appreciate the Administrator working on getting that strategy in place, so that when the decision is made to finally get rid of this phase of exploration, we’ll be ready to take on the new phase. And that’s important for the American people to understand, that, one, exploration is important; two, there will be some good coming out of exploration; and, three, that we’ve got a new vision embraced by NASA and its pioneers.
There’s not anything necessarily new in those comments, which summarize what he has said in recent days either in his comments to the shuttle crew or in his interview Monday with Texas newspaper reporters. (I’m sure some will note that he again emphasized the idea of developing a lunar base as “a launching spot for further exploration”; the question, of course, if that is a literal or figurative launching spot.) At this point, it doesn’t seem that asking the President more questions will reveal that many more insights about his space policy philosophy.