Obama vows NASA support during visit to Florida
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 2, 2008
Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, held a town hall meeting near the Kennedy Space Center today and vowed strong support for NASA, saying he favors at least one shuttle flight beyond the 10 missions left on the agency's manifest. Obama also said he would work to close the gap between the end of shuttle operations in 2010 and the debut of the Orion spacecraft that will replace it and said earlier reports that he would divert money from NASA's next manned spacecraft to education were unfounded.
Obama was introduced to an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,300 at the Brevard Community College by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who flew as a payload specialist aboard the shuttle Columbia in 1986. In his opening remarks, Obama delivered his most detailed statement yet on space policy as NASA implements the Bush administration's drive to complete the space station and retire the shuttle fleet by the end of fiscal 2010.
NASA hopes to replace the shuttle with smaller Orion capsules and huge, unmanned cargo boosters, known collectively as the Constellation program. The goal is to use Orion spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the station while developing the heavy-lift Ares 5 rocket that will help NASA establish a moon base around 2020.
Under the Bush administration's plan, the money to pay for the Constellation program primarily will come from funds that now go to the shuttle and space station programs. The Orion spacecraft and its Ares 1 booster are under development, but near-term funding shortfalls will result in a four- to five-year gap between the end of shuttle operations and the advent of routine operations with Orion. During that gap, U.S. astronauts will be forced to hitch rides to the station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
It has been widely reported in space circles that Obama earlier vowed to reduce spending for the Constellation program in favor of education initiatives. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, said in a statement last week marking NASA's 50th anniversary that "under current plans, the United States will retire the space shuttle in 2010 after its final mission to the international space station, and thus lose the capability to send on our own, an American to space."
"While my opponent seems content to retreating from American exploration of space for a decade, I am not," McCain said in the statement. "As president, I will act to make ensure our astronauts will continue to explore space, and not just by hitching a ride with someone else. I intend to make sure that the NASA Constellation program has the resources it needs so that we can begin a new era of human space exploration. A country that sent a man to the moon should expect no less."
Today, Obama said he supports the Constellation program and will work to narrow the gap between the end of shuttle operations and the advent of Orion.
"I know it's still being reported that we were talking about delaying some aspects of the Constellation program to pay for our early education program," he said. "I told my staff we're going to find an entirely different offset because we've got to make sure that the money that's going into NASA for basic research and development continues to go there. That has been a top priority for us. This is an administration that's been anti-science. Whether it's on stem cell research, whether it's on climate change, they have rejected science. I want to reverse that trend, I want us to be a science-based society and I want us to invest in science."
Obama expanded on that theme in his opening remarks today, saying "we've got to rebuild our economy in a much more fundamental way. We've got to secure our long-term prosperity and strengthen our economy for the 21st century."
"One of the areas where we're in danger of losing our competitive edge is in science and technology and nothing symbolizes that more than our space program," Obama said. "I've written about this in my book, I grew up in Hawaii and I still remember sitting on my grandfather's shoulders as some of the astronauts were brought in after their capsules had landed in the middle of the Pacific. I could just barely see them, I was waving, I had an American flag, and I remember my grandfather explaining to me this is what America's all about, we can do anything when we put our mind to it.
"And that was what the space program described, that sense of possibility and always reaching out to new frontiers. When I was growing up, NASA inspired the world with achievements that we're still proud of. And today we have an administration that sets ambitious goals for NASA without giving NASA the support it needs to reach them. As a result, NASA's had to cut back on research, trim their program, which means that after the space shuttle shuts down in 2010 we're going to have to rely on Russian spacecraft to keep us in orbit.
"So let me be clear," he said. "We cannot cede our leadership in space. That's why I'm going to close the gap, ensure that our space program doesn't suffer when the shuttle goes out of service. We may extend an additional shuttle launch, we're going to work with Bill Nelson to add at least one more flight beyond 2010 by continuing to support NASA funding, by speeding the development of the shuttle's successor, by making sure that all those that work in the space industry in Florida do not lose their jobs when the shuttle is retired. Because we cannot afford to lose their expertise."
The additional shuttle flight presumably would be devoted to launching the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a major physics experiment that lost its ride to the space station in the push to finish the station and retire the shuttle by the end of fiscal 2010. Nelson and other NASA supporters in Congress favor the additional flight, but the Bush administration opposes the additional expense.
"But more broadly, we need a real vision for the next stage of space exploration," Obama continued. "And to help formulate this vision, I'm going to re-establish the national aeronautics and space council so we can develop a plan to explore the solar system, a plan that involves both human and robotic missions, enlist both international partners and the private sector. And as America leads the world in the long-term exploration of the moon and Mars and beyond, let's also tap NASA's ingenuity to build the airplanes of tomorrow and to study our own planet so we can combat global climate change.
"Under my watch, NASA will inspire the world once again and make America stronger and it's going to help grow the economy right here in Brevard County and right here in Florida. That's what we're going to do. That's what this election's all about. It's about raising our sights, seizing the moment, reclaiming our destiny."