Forget the moon, President Obama said. We're going to Mars. Yet the President stopped short of setting specific goals, leaving a question lingering in the minds of many: When?
In a speech long on optimism yet short on details, President Obama revealed Thursday that he would announce a set of concrete goals to reach destinations beyond the moon -- asteroids, Martian moons, and ultimately Mars itself.
"By the mid 2030s, I believe we can send men to Mars's moons and return them to Earth," he told a crowd at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, near the launch pads where U.S. space voyages begin. "Leading the world to space helped America gain new prosperity on Earth. For me, the space program has always captured an essential part of what it means to be an American: Reaching new heights, stretching the limits of what is possible."
"The quest for space is an essential part of the American dream," he said, adding that "exploration will once more inspire hope in a new generation."
In his half-hour speech, the president outlined a slightly refocused strategy for human spaceflight that increases the NASA budget by $6 billion over the next five years. Obama attempted to address criticism of his plans, notably the fears of job loss following the cancellation of the planned space shuttle replacement.
"Despite reports to the contrary, my plan will add more than 2,500 jobs to the space coast" in the next few years, he said. But following suggestions by NASA chief Charlie Bolden and others, Obama called for a $40 million plan for regional job growth to keep space workers employed. He called for it to reach his desk by Aug 15.
Yet the plan did not lay out the specific details former astronauts have complained about over the past few days. Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, cited the absence of specific details in the plan to reach asteroids, and ultimately Mars.
"There's no focus, there's nothing out there that we can put our hands around and look forward to!" he told Fox News prior to the speech.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), ranking member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, expressed strong concerns with President Obama’s proposed vision for NASA as well.
"The President's evolving vision for NASA continues to leave America grounded," said Senator Hutchison. "Even the President’s second try at stating a vision fails to address the hard reality that without the space shuttle and years from a commercial developed vehicle, our human space flight options are limited to other nations such as Russia and China."
Armstrong and other astronauts expressed concerns over the past few days that scrapping the moon program would have deep consequences in terms of America's standing in the world. They wrote an open letter to Obama voicing their concerns.
Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell, who signed the letter with Armstrong, told Fox News he believes Obama's plan is "short-sighted."
"We're going to be a third-rate nation. China and Russia are going to be premier," he said.