To the Moon? At Least Mars

President Obama will travel to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL on Thursday to announce a six billion dollar increase in the NASA budget over the next five years. In addition to the budget increase, the President is launching a new plan that will help Florida’s “Space Coast” by creating 2500 jobs and creating a new range of space destinations including moons of Mars and Mars itself. But the President’s plan is not being welcomed everywhere, including by a distinguished group of space pioneers.

In preparation for an overhaul of the space program, the White House will create a task force of high-level senior officials from the Departments of Defense, Commerce and Labor as well as NASA leaders to develop a plan that will create economic growth for the region. The team will report its findings to President Obama by August 15th.

A senior administration official tells Fox, the Presidents bold vision for NASA “unlocks our ambitions and expands our frontiers in space, ultimately meeting the challenge of sending humans to Mars.”

The official went on to say that specifically the President will lay out goals and strategies for this new vision of NASA but that overall, “this new strategy means more money for NASA, more jobs for the country, more investments in innovation, more astronaut time in space, more rockets launching sooner, to more destinations in space, for a more ambitions and sustainable space program.”

But, while President Obama thinks his plan could help the Space Coast, there are some veterans of the space program who are not as convinced. In an open letter to President Obama, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon and former Apollo Commanders James Lovell and Eugene Cemen wrote to the President saying, "The … decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating. The men went on to write, "It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation.”

At the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded to the Armstrong letter saying that an independent commission has looked at the NASA budget and found the budget and programs at the agency were massively over budget and were not going to meet the timeframe of going to the moon under any circumstance.

“There have been many, including Buzz Aldrin, who believe that what the President will outline represents our best opportunity and our best effort to get this agency and program back on pace to put astronauts and rockets into space, as the President so strongly desires,” Gibbs said.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, has said in numerous past statements that he is supportive of the Obama administration plans for NASA. But, Aldrin is finding himself in the minority as over 20 other former NASA Astronauts and workers penned a letter to the President criticizing him for canceling the Constellation program.

“We are stunned that, in a time of economic crisis, this move will force as many as 30,000 irreplaceable engineers and managers out of the space industry. We see our human exploration program, one of the most inspirational tools to promote science, technology, engineering and math to our young people, being reduced to mediocrity. NASA's human space program has inspired awe and wonder in all ages by pursuing the American tradition of exploring the unknown. We strongly urge you to drop this misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future,“ reads the letter signed by Michael Griffin, the past NASA administrator, Alan Bean from the Apollo 12 mission as well as others.

In February of this year President Obama announced plans to abandon a program for manned moon explorations, choosing instead to focus on fueling spacecraft in orbit, new types of engines to accelerate spacecraft and exploration of Mars while retiring other programs.

“Remember that there was a decision made in 2004 to retire the shuttle program. The deadline actually had been extended. But the plan that the President will outline actually would result in more jobs for the area than would have been had the plans simply been carried out,” Gibbs said. “So I think that, again, the President will outline this in more specificity and detail tomorrow, but this is a sustainable investment in our continued returning to space.”