Bolden Infers that White House Agrees Mars is Eventual Destination for Human Space Flight

Bolden Infers that White House Agrees Mars is Eventual Destination for Human Space Flight

At a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing yesterday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told subcommittee chairman Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) that his “superiors” agree that the eventual goal of NASA’s human space flight program is sending humans to Mars. Previously, Gen. Bolden has said that is his personal view, but this is the first time that he indicated White House agreement. Senator Nelson replied that Gen. Bolden had “made some news” with that assertion.

However, Gen. Bolden’s statement falls short of explicitly saying that human exploration of Mars is President Obama’s goal. In his opening statement, Gen. Bolden stated that the budget supports development of technologies to enable astronauts to “meaningfully explore the moon, asteroids, and eventually Mars — and Mars is what I believe to be the ultimate destination for human exploration in our solar system, at least under my administration.” Later, Senator Nelson asked if he had approval from his superiors to make that statement and Gen. Bolden replied that his remarks had gone through “every wicket” at the White House so “I assume I have approval to say that.” The exchange came after Senator Nelson said in his opening statement that NASA’s FY2011 budget request “gave the perception that the President was killing the manned space program” and that the President needs to “clearly state what [the] goal is — to go to Mars.”

Gen. Bolden went on to say “I can’t provide a date certain for the first human mission to Mars,” but that Mars will be the focus of NASA’s technology development. He cautioned, however, that “I don’t want 7th graders to think about Mars,” but to be inspired with ongoing NASA activities such as the continuation of the International Space Station (ISS). Ranking Member Senator David Vitter (R-LA) said that he disagrees — he wants young people to think about Mars because it will inspire them and his 7th graders would find the ISS “to use their language, ‘so last week.'” Gen. Bolden countered by saying that “I think you underestimate your kids” and that he hoped that programs like the ISS would keep children interested in staying in school, working hard, and eventually going to Mars.

Senator Vitter said he would fight with all his energy to defeat the “waste of time and money ” that would go into funding this “radical vision.” Chairman Nelson told him that “we’re going to have a chance, Senator Vitter, to perfect this budget….I remind you that the President proposes and the Congress disposes.”

Gen. Bolden was followed by a panel of four “outside witnesses”: former astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson, former Lockheed Martin executive Tom Young, journalist Miles O’Brien, and aerospace engineer Michael Snyder. A summary of the hearing will be available soon.

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