Mars Mission Could Pay Dividends On Earth

President Obama sketched out a vision for the future of manned space travel during a visit to the Kennedy Space Center Thursday. His plan was closely watched in the politically important state of Florida. The president said his plan will keep Americans traveling into deep space, with an eventual goal of Mars.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Obama waded into another controversy at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida yesterday, which started when he largely shelved Bush administration plans for a new moon mission. Instead, he has set his sights on Mars. The hope is Mars will pay dividends here on Earth.

We have two reports, beginning with NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The countdowns at the Kennedy Space Center have a grim finality these days with just three space shuttle flights left. There was no clear plan for what comes next, until President Obama splashed down at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday and tried to offer one.

President BARACK OBAMA: Let me start by being extremely clear: I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future.

HORSLEY: That future has been in doubt. In his 2011 budget, Mr. Obama threatened to cancel the overdue, underfunded Constellation Program, which President Bush conceived to put a man back on the moon. Mr. Obama's message: been there, done that.

President OBAMA: There's a lot more of space to explore and a lot more to learn when we do.

HORSLEY: Instead, the president promised billions of dollars for programs to carry astronauts beyond Earth orbit, eventually to Mars. In the process, the White House says it hopes to turn Florida's I-4 corridor into the Silicon Valley of space.

Political scientist Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida says that corridor is already known as a political prize in this very important swing state.

Professor SUSAN MACMANUS (University of South Florida): Some people will look at it politically. But let me assure you that that the people on space coast will be looking at it economically.

HORSLEY: The president says his space plan will bring an extra 2,500 jobs to Florida, where the earthbound unemployment rate is the sixth highest in the country.

Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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