Update: President Obama To Hold Space Summit in Florida on April 15

Update: President Obama To Hold Space Summit in Florida on April 15

UPDATE: The text of the White House announcement is now available on the White House website.


President Barack Obama will hold a “space summit” in Florida next month to explain his vision for NASA according to a White House statement quoted by the Associated Press today. The summit will be on April 15, probably near Kennedy Space Center, though the specifics have not been formally announced.

The President’s new plan for NASA, outlined in his FY2011 budget request, would cancel NASA’s Constellation program, which is intended to replace the space shuttle as the U.S. human space transportation system. The President’s plan instead would rely on foreign and as-yet-unproven domestic commercial crew launch services to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. It also would fund technology development for future, undefined human space flight missions beyond low Earth orbit, as opposed to the Constellation program that is aiming to return humans to the Moon by 2020. The White House and NASA call the Constellation program unexecutable without significantly more funding ($5 billion a year more, according to NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver).

The President’s plan has been met primarily with skepticism, antagonism and outright anger from Democrats and Republicans in Congress and much of the aerospace workforce, especially in Florida. With the space shuttle scheduled to be terminated at the end of this year, some shuttle workers were to transition to the Constellation program. If that program is cancelled, the workforce impact could be severe.

The President’s plan does have some supporters. The White House included former astronaut Sally Ride in the roll out of the plan on February 1, along with letters from legendary Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Norm Augustine, who chaired a blue-ribbon panel last year that provided options for the future of the human space flight program. The Planetary Society has mounted a campaign to win support for it, and the President of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), Bill Smith, wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post supporting the FY2011 budget request because of its investment in space and earth science.

Only one Member of Congress has publicly spoken in favor of it, though — Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a long time advocate of commercial space activities. The FY2010 appropriations act that funded NASA included language prohibiting NASA from spending funds to cancel Constellation or begin a new program until Congress permits such action in a subsequent appropriations bill.

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