Obama sends NASA back to the drawing board

President Obama on Thursday, April 15, 2010, proposed that NASA's budget will get a $6 billion increase over the next five years and outlined his plan to cancel new NASA trips to the moon.

NASA and its sister agencies in other nations have long been the only way for humans to leave Earth's atmosphere. Now, with a bold new plan from President Obama, this task may be completely in the hands of private companies.

President Obama on Thursday, April 15, 2010, outlined his plan to cancel new NASA trips to the moon. President Bush's entire Constellation plan has been scrapped. He has proposed that NASA's budget will get a $6 billion increase over the next five years to encourage private companies into space travel, which would allow Americans to again send our own astronauts to the space station (instead of relying on Russian transport). Many experts believe this is the only feasible way to get humans to Mars.

In addition, President Obama's plan will ramp up robotic exploration and extend the life of the space station. Also, a large portion of the budget will go into research and development into a new heavy-lift rocket that will be eventually used to get humans to an asteroid for the first time and eventually to a Martian orbit sometime in the 2030s.

Here's the 33-minute NASAtelevision video of President Obama's speech at the Kennedy Space Center.

President Obama's plan has sparked much controversy, especially among veteran astronauts. One major conflict is between Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first and second men on the moon, respectively. Armstrong, along with several other Apollo-era astronauts, accuses President Obama of abandoning American leadership in space, while Aldrin supports Obama's plan and says that the Constellation program was never well thought out and believes we should instead head toward Mars.

In an interview with CBS News' Bob Schieffer, Aldrin outlines his past differences of opinion with the way NASA has headed, including his belief in the 1980s that the space station should have been a moon station. Aldrin has since realized that that opinion was shortsighted and has amended it to support for a station on Phobos. You can watch a six-minute clip from the Aldrin interview.

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As I wrote in Geekend in February 2010, Mars and its primary moon Phobos may hold the key to humanity's space-faring future. With this new update from President Obama, the private companies will help drive down the costs of space travel and enable us to actually get there without breaking the bank. As was mentioned in last Thursday's episode of The Diane Rehm Show on NPR, the cost of going to the Earth orbit is about $3,000 per pound, while the cost of going to Mars would be about $140,000 per pound. With research and development being released to big business, they may be able to drive this cost down and be more efficient in the process.

This new plan for space exploration sounds ambitious yet exciting to me; what do you think? Weigh in with your comments.

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