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4/16/2010
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Obama Mars Plan Too Far Out?

Republicans say the President's vision for NASA means the end of U.S. space leadership, and even some Democrats are questioning the plan.

Reaction to President Obama's plan to kill the space shuttle, scrap moon missions in favor of deep-space travel, and outsource launches to private contractors is falling mostly along partisan lines—but even some Democrats said the proposals could hurt U.S. space interests in the short term.

Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fl) said the President's refusal to extend the life of the shuttle could be a job killer in her state, home to the Kennedy Space Center, and a blow to the U.S. aerospace leadership.

"Without working towards a specific vehicle and without having American access to the International Space Station, we risk losing our supremacy in space," Kosmas said in a statement Thursday, following an address by Obama at Kennedy during which he outlined his strategic vision for NASA.

Kosmas has introduced legislation that would extend the life of the shuttle program, slated to end this year, and fund development of a new vehicle that could be used for flights to the ISS.

Colorado Republican Congressman Mike Coffman said he was "deeply troubled" by the President's decision to cancel the Constellation program, which called for the construction of the Ares rocket and Orion crew capsule for future moon shots.

Obama, however, reversed course on Orion and now believes the capsule could be used as an emergency escape vehicle for the space station. "Today's news is a welcome reversal of that strategic error," Coffman said in a statement.

Another Florida Democrat, Senate Science and Space Subcommittee chairman Bill Nelson, also praised Obama's decision to salvage Orion. The President "is moving in the right direction," Nelson's office said. Nelson, however, warned that Congress wouldn't "rubber stamp" the President's proposals for NASA.

Republican Congressman John Culberson, of Texas, said saving Orion, but not Ares, isn't enough. "The President's plan scraps six years and $9 billion of time and taxpayer money that have been invested in the Constellation program," Culberson said in a statement.

"It carelessly casts aside the proven technology developed through the program and literally sends us back to the drawing board," Culberson said.

In his speech at Kennedy, Obama said NASA should focus on conquering new frontiers instead of revisiting places, like the lunar surface, where astronauts have already tread.

"By 2025 we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first ever missions beyond the moon into deep space," Obama said. Such journeys, the President argued, would pave the way for manned missions to Mars.

Obama's plan also calls for the construction of an advanced space telescope to replace the aging Hubble, a $3 billion investment in new, heavy-lift rockets, and research into green technologies.

Obama insisted his plan would put the U.S. in the forefront of space exploration in the long term. He also claimed the program would add 2,500 new jobs along the Space Coast over the next two years and 10,000 new jobs nationwide.

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