Image: Obama at KSC
Jewel Samad  /  AFP - Getty Images file
President Barack Obama walks past a space shuttle rocket engine during a visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in April. A new space policy document follows up on the initiatives Obama announced during the trip.
updated 6/28/2010 2:22:50 PM ET 2010-06-28T18:22:50

The White House rolled out a sweeping national space policy for the United States on Monday, one that aims to boost international cooperation and reiterates plans to send Americans to visit an asteroid by 2025.

The 14-page space policy reaches beyond President Barack Obama's plans for NASA — which would shift the goal of U.S. human spaceflight from the moon to visiting asteroids and Mars, according to a plan unveiled in February — touching on future needs for Earth observation, space debris and space security.

"We are releasing a new national space policy, designed to strengthen America's leadership in space while fostering untold rewards here on Earth," President Obama said in a statement Monday. "For even as we continue our relentless focus on the serious challenges we face at home and abroad, our long-term success and leadership as a nation demands that we do not lose sight of the promise of the future."

International cooperation is key on all fronts included in the new space policy, White House officials said.

"If there's one really broad theme it is international cooperation, which is woven throughout the new policy and it's our sort of foundational emphasis for achieving all of our goals in space," said Barry Pavel, senior director for defense policy and strategy for the National Security Council.

The to-do list
More robust cooperation will be vital to develop more comprehensive systems to track global climate change and space weather from orbit, as well as keep taps on the growing risk of space debris collisions with satellites and other vehicles, White House officials said.

The new national space policy reiterates President Obama's proposed new direction for NASA, which calls on the space agency to target missions beyond low-Earth orbit — such as to an asteroid – by 2025 with the goal of sending astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s. [FAQ: NASA's New Direction]

Obama proposed the course change for NASA, which includes canceling the agency's Constellation program building rockets and spaceships to return astronauts to the moon, in February, then in April announced the goal of exploring asteroids by 2025.

The International Space Station, which was slated to end its orbital life in 2015, has been extended through 2020 under the new plan.

"NASA has a key role in achieving the goals defined in the new policy," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Monday. "We are committed to working with other agencies, industry, and international partners to achieve national goals in exploration — human and robotic — and technology development that will ensure a robust future for the U.S. and our friends around the world."

Under NASA's new space plan, the agency will retire its space shuttle fleet by early 2011 and then rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the space station until U.S. commercial spacecraft are available.

Commercial spaceflight push
Supporting that nascent U.S. commercial spaceflight industry is a vital part of the country's future in space, President Obama said.

In his statement, President Obama said "this policy is about the boundless possibilities of the future. That is why we seek to spur a burgeoning commercial space industry, to rapidly increase our capabilities in space while bolstering America's competitive edge in the global economy."

Despite the new space policy's focus on international cooperation, it is still too early to know if particular countries such as China will be able to participate in current projects involving NASA, such as the International Space Station, or on future U.S. space projects.

NASA officials have dismissed recent reports from Russia suggesting that Russian space officials invited China to join the International Space Station project. The $100 billion space station has been under construction by 16 different partner countries since 1998 and is now nearly complete.

"I think it's a little bit premature to talk about China and the space station. It's obviously a very complex issue," said Jim Kohlenberger, chief of staff for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "There're no imminent plans to include China at this point and obviously we'd have to discuss it with our international partners."

Analysts of President Obama's new space policy said it goes further toward international partnerships than the previous policy laid down by former President George W. Bush.

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While the Bush-era policy took a unilateral approach to U.S. activities in space, the Obama administration's policy would open up some areas — such as new arms control agreements and space security issues — to international input.

"That's critically important," said Laura Grego, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "There is no way we can achieve lasting space security independently. We are going to have to coordinate and cooperate with other spacefaring nations. That's the nature of space."

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Video: President resets NASA's goals

  1. Closed captioning of: President resets NASA's goals

    >> a great round of applause. i also want to thank everybody for participating in today's conference. gathered here are scientists, engineers, business leaders, public servants , and a few more astronauts as well. and last but not least i want to thank the men and women of nasa for welcoming me to the kennedy space center and for your contributions not only to america but to the world . here at the kennedy space center we are surrounded by monuments and milestones of those contributions. it was from here that nasa launched the missions of mercury and gemini and apollo. it was from here that space shuttle discovery piloted by charlie bolton carried the hubbell telescope into orbit allowing us to plum the deepest resources of our galaxy. i should point out by the way this in my private office just off the oval i've got a picture of jupiter from the hubbell so thank you for helping decorate my office . it was from here that men and women propelled by sheer nerve and talent set about pushing the boundaries of humanity's reach. that's the story of nasa . it's a story that started a little more than half a century ago. far from the space coast in a remote and desolate region of what is now called kazakhstan because it was from there that the soviet union launched sputnik the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth which was a little more than a few of metal with a transmitter and battery strapped to the top of a missile. you about world was stunned. americans were dumb founded. the soviets it was perceived had taken the lead in a race for which we were not yet fully prepared. but we caught up quickly. president eisenhower signed legislation to create nasa and invest in science and math education from grade school to graduate school . in 1961 president kennedy boldly declared before a joint session of congress that the united states would send a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth within a decade. as a nation, we set about meeting that goal. reaping rewards that have in the decades since touched every facet of our lives. nasa was at the forefront. many gave their careers to the effort and some have given far more. in the years that have followed, the space race inspired a generation of scientists and innovators including i'm sure many of you. it's contributed to immeasurable technological advances that have improved our health and well being from satellite navigation to water purification , from aerospace manufacturing to medical imaging . although i have to say during a meeting right before i came out on stage somebody said, you know, it's more than just tang and i had to point out i actually really like tang. i thought that was very cool. and leading the world to space helped america achieve new heights of prosperity here on earth while demonstrating the power of a free and open society to harness the ingenuity of its people. and on a personal note, i have been part of that generation so inspired by the space program . 1961 was the year of my birth, the year that kennedy made his announcement. one of my earliest memories is sitting on my grandfather's shoulders, waving a flag as astronauts arrived in hawaii . for me, the space program has always captured an essential part of what it means to be an american. reaching for new heights, stretching beyond what previously did not seem possible. so as president i believe space exploration is not a luxury, it's not an after thought in america 's quest for a brighter future. it is an essential part of that quest. so today i'd like to talk about story . the challenges facing our space program are different and our imper tifs for this program are different than in decades past. we're no longer racing against an adversary. we're no longer competing to achieve a singular goal like reaching the moon. in fact, what was once a global competition has long since become a global collaboration. while the measure of our achievements has changed a great deal over the past 50 years, what we do or fail to do in seeking new frontiers is no less consequential for our future in space and here on earth . so let me start by being extremely clear . i am 100% committed to the mission of nasa and its future. [ applause ] because broadening our capabilities in space will continue to serve our society in ways we can scarcely imagine. because exploration will once more inspire wonder in a new generation, sparking passions and launching careers, and because ultimately if we fail to press forward in the pursuit of discovery we are ceding our future and that essential element of the american character. now, i know there have been a number of questions raised about my administration 's plan for space exploration especially in this part of florida where so many rely on nasa as a source of income as well as a source of pride and community. these questions come at a time of transition. as the space shuttle nears its scheduled retirement after almost 30 years of service. and understandably this adds to the worries of folks concerned not only about their own futures but about the future of the space program to which they've devoted their lives. but i also know that underlying these concerns is a deeper worry, one that precedes not only this plan but this administration . it stems from the sense that people in washington , driven sometimes less by vision than by politics, have for years neglected nasa 's mission and undermined the work of professionals who fulfill it. we've seen that in the nasa budget which has risen and fallen with the political winds. we can also see it in other ways, in the reluctance of those who set office to set clear , achievable objectives, to provide the resources to meet those objectives, and to justify not just these plans but the larger purpose of space exploration in the 21st century . all of that has to change. with the strategy i'm outlining today it will. we start by increasing nasa 's budget by $6 billion over the next five years. i want people to understand the context of this. this is happening even as we have instituted a freeze on discretionary spending and sought to make cuts elsewhere in the budget . so nasa from the start several months ago when i issued my budget was one of the areas where we didn't just maintain a freeze but we actually increased funding by $6 billion. by doing that, we will ramp up robotic exploration of the solar system , including a probe of the sun's atmosphere, new scouting missions to mars and other destinations, and an advanced telescope to follow hubbell allowing us to peer deeper into the universe than ever before. we will increase earth -based observation to improve our understanding of our climate and our world . science that will garner tangible benefits, helping us protect our environment for future generations . and we will extend the life of the international space station likely by more than five years while actually using it for its intended purpose -- conducting advanced research that can help improve the daily lives of people here on earth as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space . this includes technologies like more efficient life support systems that will help reduce the costs of future missions. and in order to reach the space station , we will work with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable. i recognize that some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. i disagree. the truth is, nasa has always relied on private industry to help design and build the vehicles that carry astronauts to space . from the mercury capsule that carried john glenn into orbit nearly 50 years ago to the space shuttle discovery currently orbiting overhead. by buying the services of space transportation , rather than the vehicles, themselves, we can continue to ensure rigorous safety standards are met, but we will also accelerate the pace of innovations as companies from young startups to established leaders, compete to design and build and launch new means of carrying people and materials out of our atmosphere. in addition, as part of this effort, we will build on the good work already done on the orion crew capsule . i directed charlie bolden to immediately begin developing a rescue vehicle using this technology so we are not forced to rely on foreign providers if it becomes necessary to quickly bring our people home from the international space station . and this orion effort will be part of the technological foundation for advanced spacecraft to be used in future deep space missions. in fact, orion will be readied for flight right here in this room. [ applause ] next, we will invest more than $3 billion to conduct research on an advanced heavy lift rocket, a vehicle to efficiently send into orbit the crew capsules, propulsion systems, and large quantities of supplies needed to reach deep space . and developing this new vehicle, we will not only look at revising or modifying older models, we want to look at new designs, new materials, new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there. and we will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it. that -- [ applause ] i want everybody to understand that's at least two years earlier than previously planned. that's conservative given that the previous program was behind schedule and over budget . at the same time, after decades of neglect, we will increase investment right away in other ground breaking technologies that will allow astronauts to reach space sooner and more often. to travel farther and faster for less cost and to live and work in space for longer periods of time more safely. that means tackling major scientific and technological challenges. now, how do we shield astronauts from radiation on longer missions? how do we harness resources on distant worlds? how do we supply spacecraft with energy needed for these far reaching journeys? these are questions that we cancan answer and will answer, and these are the questions whose answers no doubt will reap untold benefits right here on earth . so the point is what we're looking for is not just to continue on the same path. we want to leap into the future. we want major breakthroughs, a transformative agenda for nasa . [ applause ] now, yes, pursuing this new strategy will require that we revise the old strategy. in part, this is because the old strategy, including the constellation program , was not fulfilling its promise in many ways. that's not just my assessment. that's also the assessment of a panel of respected, nonpartisan experts charged with looking at these issues closely. now, despite this, some had harsh words for the decisions we've made, including some individuals who i've got enormous respect and admiration for. but what i hope is that everybody will take a look at what we are planning, consider the details of what we've laid out, and see the merits as i've described them. the bottom line is, nobody is more committed to manned space flight , to human exploration of space , than i am. but we've got to do it in a smart way and we can't just keep on doing the same old things that we've been doing and thinking that somehow is going to get us to where we want to go. some have said, for instance, that this plan gives up our leadership in space by failing to produce plans within nasa to reach lower earth orbit instead of relying on companies and other countries 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 flights. through our plan we'll be sending many more astronauts to space over the next decade. [ applause ] there are also those who criticized our decision to end parts of constellation as one that will hinder space exploration below low earth orbit . but it's precisely by investing in ground breaking research and innovative companies that we will have the potential to rapidly transform our capabilities. even as we build on the important work already completed through projects like orion for future missions. and unlike the previous program , we are setting a course with specific and achievable milestones. early in the next decade, a set of crude flights will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond lower earth orbit . and by 2025 we expect a new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first ever crude missions beyond the moon into deep space . so we'll start -- [ applause ] 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 and i expect to be around to see it. [ applause ] but i want to repeat this. critical to deep space exploration will be the development of breakthrough propulsion systems and other advanced technologies. so i'm challenging nasa to break through these barriers, and we'll give you the resources to break through these barriers. and i know you will, with ingenuity and intensity because that's what you've always done. [ applause ] now, i understand that some believe we should attempt a return to the surface of the moon first as previously planned. but i just have to say pretty bluntly here, we've been there before. buzz has been there. there's a lot more of space to explore and a lot more to learn when we do, so i believe it's more important to ramp up our capabilities to reach and operate at a series of increasingly demanding targets while advancing our technological capabilities with each step forward . that's what this strategy does. that's how we will ensure that our leadership in space is even stronger in this new century than it was in the last. finally, i want to say a few words about jobs. suzanne pointed out to me the last time i was here, i made a very clear promise that i would help in the transition into a new program to make sure that people who are already going through a tough time here in this region were helped. and despite some reports to the contrary, my plan will add more than 2500 jobs along the space coast in the next two years, compared to the plan under the previous administration . so i want to make that point. we're going to modernize the kennedy space center , creating jobs as we upgrade launch facilities. and there's potential for even more jobs as companies in florida and across america compete to be part of a new space transportation industry. and some of those industry leaders are here today. this holds the promise of generating more than 10,000 jobs nationwide over the next few years. many of these jobs will be created right here in florida because this is an area prime to lead in this competition. now, it's true. there are floridians who will see their work on the shuttle end as the program winds down. this is based on a decision that was made six years ago, not six months ago. but that doesn't make it any less painful for families and communities affected as this decision becomes reality. so i'm proposing, in part, because of strong lobbying by bill and by suzanne as well as charlie , i'm proposing a $40 million initiative, led by a high level team from the white house , nasa , and other agencies, to develop a plan for regional economic growth and job creation . and i expect this plan to reach my desk by august 15th . it's an effort that will help prepare this already skilled work force for new opportunities in the space industry and beyond. so this is the next chapter that we can write together here at nasa . we will partner with industry. we will invest in cutting edge research and technology. we will set far reaching milestones and provide the resources to reach those milestones. and step by step , we will push the boundaries not only of where we can go but what we can do. now, 50 years after the creation of nasa , our goal is no longer just a destination to reach. our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the earth for extended periods of time. ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite and in fulfilling this task we will not only extend humanity's reach in space , we will strengthen america 's leadership here on earth . i'll close by saying this. i know that some americans have asked a question that's particularly apt on tax day . why spend money on nasa at all. why spend money solving problems in space when we don't lack for problems to solve here on the ground? obviously, our country is still reeling from the worst economic turmoil we've known in generations. we have massive structural deficits that have to be closed in the coming years. but you and i know this is a false choice . we have to fix our economy. we need to close our deficits. but for pennies on the dollar the space program has fueled jobs and entire industries. for pennies on the dollar the space program has improved our lives, advanced our society, strengthened our economy, and inspired generations of americans , and i have no doubt that nasa can continue to fulfill this role. [ applause ] but that is why -- but i want to say, clearly, to those of you who work for nasa but to the entire community that has been so supportive of the space program in this area. that is exactly why it's so essential that we pursue a new course and that we revitalize nasa and its mission . not just with dollars but with clear aims and a larger purpose. a little more than 40 years ago astronauts descended the nine-rung ladder of the lunar module and allowed their feet to touch the dusty surface of the earth 's only moon. this was the culmination of a daring and perilous gam bbit of an endeavor that pushed our technical prowess, our very capacity as human beings to solve problems. it wasn't just the greatest achievement in nasa 's history but one of the greatest achievements in human history and the question for us now is whether that was the beginning of something or the end of something. i choose to believe it was only the beginning. so thank you. god bless you. may god bless the united states of america .


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