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2/18/2010
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Obama Ponders Manned Mars Missions

The President wonders what it would take to put humans on the red planet in live Q&A with shuttle crew.

President Obama and a dozen middle school students from around the country had a live chat with astronauts aboard the space shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station on Wednesday, courtesy of a hook up from NASA.

The conversation started on a decidedly informal note, as the President greeted the astronauts with a casual, "Hey guys," to begin the call.

"I just wanted to let you guys know how proud we are of all of you at what you guys have been accomplishing," said Obama.

"And so we just wanted to let you know that the amazing work that's being done on the International Space Station not only by our American astronauts but also our colleagues from Japan and Russia is just a testimony to the human ingenuity," Obama said.

The call came at a time when some legislators are criticizing Obama for his decision to kill funding for a program, known as Constellation, that would have seen humans return to the moon by 2020. Despite that, Obama told the astronauts that he remains a strong supporter of the space agency.

"My commitment to NASA is unwavering," Obama said. Obama hinted that he feels NASA should set its sights farther than the moon. "If we want to get to Mars, if we want to get beyond that, what kinds of transformational technologies are going to be necessary?" Obama pondered at one point during the call.

Still, there's no question the moon landings of the late 1960s and early 70s were seminal events in the space program. One student on the call, identified in an official transcript only as Mary, asked what inspired the astronauts to enter their chosen careers.

"The thing that inspired me to become an astronaut was watching the Apollo moon landings," answered mission specialist Nick Patrick, an Endeavour crew member.

Endeavour is in the midst of its 24th flight, the 130th for the space shuttle program overall. NASA is cancelling the program at the end of 2010, and there are only four remaining missions scheduled through the remainder of this year.

InformationWeek has published a report on how telepresence is turning video communications into a near in-person experience. Download the report here (registration required).

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