While a few hundred people got to see President Obama speak in person about NASA and his new plan for the agency at the Kennedy Space Center, I sat in a far larger audience at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs to watch a video of the speech. Some highlights:
- For those who wanted destinations and deadlines, you got ‘em. Obama called for a human mission to an asteroid by 2025 and a mission to Mars orbit by the mid-2030s, and “a landing on Mars will follow”.
- The Moon, on the other hand, is old news to the president. “But the simple fact is, we have been there before. There is a lot more space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do.”
- In addition to the Orion CRV and HLV design announcements, Obama announced a $40-million initiative led by the White House and NASA, with other government agencies, “to develop a plan for regional economic growth and job creation” due by August 15. It wasn’t clear if this would be a job just for Florida or nationwide.
- In one sentence in the speech, Obama seemed to endorse the idea of space settlement: “Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn, operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite.”
- Obama emphasized throughout his speech his support for NASA and human spaceflight, keeping US as a leader. “I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future,” he said. Later, regarding canceling Constellation: “But we will actually reach space faster and more often under this new plan, in ways that will help us improve our technological capacity and lower our costs, which are both essential for the long-term sustainability of space flight.”
- Notably absent from the speech: any mention of a shuttle extension, even by a single flight.
Immediately (within a minute) after the end of the speech, the Space Foundation hosted an “instant analysis” panel featuring former congressman Bob Walker and Lon Levin, best known as a cofounder of XM Satellite Radio. A few highlights there:
- Both Walker and Levin appeared to like the plan. Walker said the speech will cause the political establishment to “take a deep breath” and reexamine their interest in or opposition to the plan, while Levin called it a good speech that recognized the need to match goals and resources.
- Walker noted a problem with the original rollout of the plan in February was that it was done as a budget proposal. Members of Congress scrutinize them to see what they would lose, rather than what we can gain.
- Moving forward in Congress, Walker said that while the most logical path for building support would be in the space subcommittee of the House Science Committee, that committee has a number of members with NASA centers in their districts and thus may not be as receptive. A better alternative may be the Senate Appropriations Committee, through Sen. Mikulski (and her subcommittee is holding a hearing on the NASA budget next week.)
- One concern Walker had is that he believes NASA will operate under a continuing resolution for several months because the appropriations bill would not be done in time. (He also seemed to indicate the possibility of a year-long CR.) Such a move would restrict NASA’s ability to start new programs or wind down Constellation.
- Asked at the end if the speech “changed hearts and minds”, Levin said he thought so, because the president did a good job delivering the speech, including discussing why we do space exploration. Walker said it will take some time to see how the public reacts. If the public believes that this enhances our leadership position in space, he said, they will support it.