What the President Will Say Tomorrow About NASA

What the President Will Say Tomorrow About NASA

It’s been clear for many weeks that some sort of compromise would have to be worked out between Congress and the White House on the future of the human space flight program. The President’s plan, revealed as part of the FY2011 budget request, met a cold reception on Capitol Hill. In advance of President Obama’s speech at Kennedy Space Center tomorrow at 2:45 pm EDT, an OSTP fact sheet released yesterday provides the outlines of that compromise.

One ingredient is retaining the Orion capsule from the Constellation program instead of cancelling all of Constellation as originally planned. The “new” Orion would be a pale version of itself, though. Instead of a capsule to take people to the Moon and Mars and, incidentally, to the International Space Station for a few years, its new purpose would be only to take crews home from the ISS in an emergency – a capability sometimes referred to as a Crew Return Vehicle (CRV). Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft have been the CRVs throughout the decade that crews have occupied the ISS. There has been much talk of building an “Orion-lite” with less capability than originally planned, but this takes that a step or two further. The change does give the White House the opportunity to say that the modified plan “restructures” instead of “cancels” Constellation, an important nuance politically.

Accelerating the choice of a firm design for a heavy lift launch vehicle is also part of the modified plan, and creating more jobs for Florida by 2012 than there would have been under the previous plan, according to OSTP and a NASA fact sheet.

The OSTP fact sheet also says that the President will outline a timetable for human exploration, and it references Mars as the ultimate destination several times. The President’s original plan was sharply criticized for lacking those elements.

To the President’s credit, it appears as though he is trying to be responsive to the withering criticism from both parties in Congress. Whether it will be enough to win the day remains to be seen.

The schedule for tomorrow is as follows. Everything will be broadcast on NASA TV.

1:30 pm President Obama lands at Kennedy Space Center

2:45 pm President Obama speaks

3:45 pm President Obama departs aboard Air Force One

3:45 pm NASA “conference” begins with NASA Administrator Bolden, Norm Augustine, and Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren providing an overview

4:25 pm Four “breakout” groups will meet concurrently on the following topics:

  • Increasing Access to and Utilization of the International Space Station
  • Jumpstarting the New Technologies to Take Us Beyond
  • Expanding our Reach into the Solar System
  • Harnessing Space to Expand Economic Opportunity

5:40 pm NASA Administrator Bolden will wrap-up the conference

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