Obama Insists He Is Committed To NASA Mission
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Air Force One touched down this afternoon on the Florida runway that's ordinarily used for space shuttle landings. The space shuttle program is ending later this year, so President Obama was paying a visit to the Kennedy Space Center to explain to an anxious workforce what comes next.
President BARACK OBAMA: Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space, than I am. But we've got to do it in a smart way.
(Soundbite of applause)
Pres. OBAMA: And we can't just keep on doing the same old things that we've been doing and thinking that somehow is going to get us to where we want to go.
SIEGEL: NPR's Scott Horsley is in Cape Canaveral, and he joins us now. And, Scott, if the president is not going to continue the same old things, what is his plan for space?
SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, one thing, Robert, he stressed that the decision to end the space shuttle program was not made on his watch, but was made years ago. In the short term, he's planning to rely on commercial rockets to ferry cargo and astronauts into orbit. Before his speech today, he dropped by the launch pad of a Falcon 9 rocket that's under development by a private company, which is scheduled to have its first test launch next month.
Over the longer term, as you heard, Mr. Obama says he is committed to a role for NASA in manned space flight beyond Earth's orbit. And as the first milepost, he wants to select a heavy lift rocket design in five years.
SIEGEL: Scott, the space coast of Florida could lose thousands of jobs when the shuttle is grounded, was there acknowledgement of that today?
HORSLEY: There was and one of the things the president's proposing is $40 million to help provide sort of transitional training for some of those displaced workers.
The other thing that the Obama administration is promising is that that private commercial development of rockets will be overseen right here at the Kennedy Space Center. And he is preserving a small piece of the Constellation program that was dreamed up under the Bush administration, which he's otherwise scrapping. And that is development of a space capsule. That will also take place here at the Kennedy Space Center.
SIEGEL: Now, the president was criticized earlier this year when he called for scrapping the plan called Constellation, the Bush era plan. Is he now backtracking on that decision?
HORSLEY: Not really, although, as I said, he has agreed to preserve a small piece of that. And mostly what he is doing is offering assurance that the end of the Constellation program is not the end of manned space flight overseen by NASA.
SIEGEL: Scott, some people might be asking now about why the president's talking about space when down here on earth in this country we've got nearly 10 percent unemployment.
HORSLEY: That's right. He addressed that in both blue sky terms today and down to Earth practicality. He talked about the inspiration that has always gone with space flight, how the Apollo program inspired a generation. He talked about space exploration as being a key part of the American character.
But make no mistake, in Florida, in Houston, in various contractor communities, space is a business and it has a lot of jobs attached to it. The administration is saying this plan will create 2,500 more jobs here in Florida than would've been the case under the Constellation program. And they're counting on the commercial rocket development to add another 10,000-plus jobs nationwide.
SIEGEL: And of course Florida is a very important state politically for both parties and for the president, was that evident to you today?
HORSLEY: Well, of course President Obama carried Florida in 2008. He would like very much to carry it again in 2012. The White House is talking about creating a Silicon Valley of space along the I-4 corridor, and that's a pivotal area in this swing state. So, I think politics is never far from the minds of the president.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Scott. That's NPR's Scott Horsley speaking to us from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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