Space policy of the Barack Obama administration

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President Obama speaks at KSC's Operations and Checkout Building.

The space policy of the Barack Obama administration was announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on April 15, 2010, at a major space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center.[1] He committed to increasing NASA funding by $6 billion over five years and completing the design of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle by 2015 and to begin construction thereafter. He also predicted a U.S.-crewed orbital Mars mission by the mid-2030s, preceded by an asteroid mission by 2025. In response to concerns over job losses, Obama promised a $40 million effort to help Space Coast workers affected by the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program and Constellation program.

The Obama administration's space policy was made subsequent to the final report of the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee, which it had instituted to review the human spaceflight plans of the United States in the post-Space Shuttle era. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010, passed on October 11, 2010, enacted many of the Obama administration's space policy goals.


File:Lunar Electric Rover at 2009 Presidential inauguration parade.jpg
President Obama, Michelle Obama and Vice President Biden watch NASA's Lunar Electric Rover at the 2009 inaugural parade.

In November 2007, the Obama presidential campaign released a policy document delaying NASA's Constellation program by five years to fund education programs.[2] There was concern that any delay would prolong the gap after the Space Shuttle's retirement, when the US would be dependent on the Russian government for access to the International Space Station. Other presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, did not support the delay.[3]

In January 2008, the Obama campaign revised its position, supporting the immediate development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Ares I rocket to narrow the gap. However, the new policy was silent on the heavy lift Ares V rocket and missions beyond low Earth orbit.[4]

Obama gave the first major space policy speech of his campaign in Titusville, Florida in August 2008.[5] He subsequently approved a seven-page space plan that committed to target dates for destinations beyond low Earth orbit:

Obama was noted for "having offered more specifics about his plans for NASA than any U.S. presidential candidate in history".[7]

Augustine Commission

Augustine Commission logo.svg

The Obama administration instituted the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee, also known as the Augustine Commission, to review the human spaceflight plans of the United States after the time NASA had planned to retire the Space Shuttle. Their goal was to ensure the nation is on "a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space." The review was announced by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on May 7, 2009.[8][9][10] The report was released on October 22, 2009.[11]

The Committee judged the 9 year old Constellation program to be so behind schedule, underfunded and over budget that meeting any of its goals would not be possible. The President removed the program from the 2010 NASA budget request and a bi-partisan congress refused to fund it any longer, effectively canceling the program. One component of the program, the Orion crew capsule, was added back to plans but as a rescue vehicle to complement the Russian Soyuz in returning Station crews to Earth in the event of an emergency.[12]

In its final report, the Committee proposed three basic options for exploration beyond low Earth orbit, and appeared to favor the third option:

  • Mars First, with a Mars landing, perhaps after a brief test of equipment and procedures on the Moon.
  • Moon First, with lunar surface exploration focused on developing the capability to explore Mars.
  • A Flexible Path to inner Solar System locations, such as lunar orbit, Lagrange points, near-Earth objects and the moons of Mars, followed by exploration of the lunar surface and/or Martian surface.

In his April 15, 2010 space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center announcing the administration's plans for NASA, none of the 3 plans outlined in the Committees final report were completely selected.[13] The President rejected immediate plans to return to the Moon on the premise that the current plan had become nonviable. He instead promised $6 billion in additional funding and called for development of a new heavy lift rocket program to be ready for construction by 2015 with crewed missions to Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.[14]

Space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center

Attendees included current NASA administrator and Obama appointee Charles Bolden, Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), among others.

Modification of Orion

Obama announced the modification of the Orion capsule from its original purpose as a crewed spacecraft for flights to the ISS and the Moon into an emergency escape capsule for the International Space Station, reducing American reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.


The new policy changes from Vision for Space Exploration and Constellation program Moon-first approach to a variety of destinations resembling the flexible path approach:

Obama promoted the idea of a crewed mission to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s with a landing as a follow-up:

Reliance on commercially operated launch vehicles

The Falcon 9 rocket Obama referenced in his speech first launched on June 4, 2010.

In a major shift in the function of NASA in American human spaceflight, the Obama administration proposal would rely solely on launch vehicles designed, manufactured, and operated by private aerospace companies, with NASA paying for flights for government astronauts.

Prior to the speech, Obama toured the launch facilities surrounding the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle with CEO Elon Musk which has received NASA funding through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program and could loft NASA astronauts under the new plan. In the speech, Obama referenced the maiden flight of the Falcon 9, which would go on to launch successfully less than one and a half months after the speech:

Extension of ISS operations

Obama also announced an extension of funding for International Space Station operations, 90% complete by mass[15] at the time of the speech but scheduled to be deorbited by as early as 2015 before Obama announced the extension, which will provide funding through 2020.

Heavy-lift launch vehicle

In the speech, Obama announced the development of a new Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV) to replace the planned Ares V, with the design planned for completion by 2015, two years prior to the Constellation plan, and construction commencing thereafter:



Prior to the speech, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk released a statement praising the proposal and criticizing Senators who had opposed it and former NASA administrator Michael Griffin:

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin released a statement in support of the plan via the White House on February 1, prior to the announcement of the 2011 federal budget, which included the changes Obama announced in the speech:


Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Eugene Cernan, commanders of Apollo 11, Apollo 13, and Apollo 17 respectively, said:

  • "When President Obama recently released his budget for NASA, he proposed a slight increase in total funding...the accompanying decision to cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating."
  • "It appears that we will have wasted our current ten plus billion dollar investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded."[18]
  • "For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature. While the President's plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years."[19]

Robert Zubrin, President of The Mars Society and whose book The Case for Mars first proposed a Shuttle-derived heavy lift vehicle named Ares, lambasted Obama's plans in the New York Daily News:

  • "Under the Obama plan, NASA will spend $100 billion on human spaceflight over the next 10 years in order to accomplish nothing"
  • "Obama called for sending a crew to a near Earth asteroid by 2025. ... Had Obama not canceled the Ares 5, we could have used it to perform an asteroid mission by 2016. But the President, while calling for such a flight, actually is terminating the programs that would make it possible."
  • "With current in-space propulsion technology, we can do a round-trip mission to a near-Earth asteroid or a one-way transit to Mars in six months ... Holdren claims that he wants to develop a new electrically powered space thruster to speed up such trips. But without gigantic space nuclear power reactors to provide them with juice, such thrusters are useless, and the administration has no intention of developing such reactors."[20]
  • "Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity."[21]


President Barack Obama speaks at Kennedy Space Center

Subsequent developments

The Obama administration released its new formal space policy on June 28, 2010.

The NASA Authorization Act of 2010, passed on October 11, 2010, authorized funds for NASA for fiscal year 2011–2013, and enacted many of his stated space policy goals. A total of $58 billion in funding is called for, spread across three years.[22]

The 2011 budget legislation, passed in April 2011, officially terminated the Constellation program. The passage of the budget frees NASA to start working on the new initiatives.[23]

In September 2011, details were announced of the Space Launch System, a Shuttle-Derived Launch Vehicle being developed by NASA as a replacement for the Ares I and Ares V rockets of the Constellation program.

The Obama administration cut NASA's planetary-sciences budget by 20 percent in 2013, as part of a restructuring plan, contrary to the recommendations of the National Research Council.[24]

In January 2014 the Obama administration announced it would seek to extend the operational life of the International Space Station by four more years to 2024.[25]

See also


  1. Chang, Kenneth (April 15, 2010). "Obama Promises Renewed Space Program". The New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Barack Obama's plan for lifetime success through education" (PDF). Obama for America. November 26, 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 2, 2008. Retrieved November 1, 2011. The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Kaufman, Marc (November 23, 2007). "Clinton Favors Future Human Spaceflight". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 1, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Barack Obama's Plan For American Leadership in Space". SpaceRef. January 10, 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Peterson, Patrick (August 8, 2008). "Sen. Barack Obama Pledges Space Advocacy". Florida Today. Retrieved November 5, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Advancing the frontiers of space exploration" (PDF). Obama for America. August 15, 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 28, 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Berger, Brian (November 10, 2008). "On Heels of Campaign Promises, Obama Faces Big NASA Decisions". Space News. Retrieved November 5, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "U.S. Announces Review of Human Space Flight Plans" (PDF). Office of Science and Technology Policy. May 7, 2009. Retrieved September 9, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "NASA launches another Web site". United Press International. June 8, 2009. Retrieved September 9, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Bonilla, Dennis (September 8, 2009). "Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee". NASA. Retrieved September 9, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Sciencemag – No to NASA
  12. Stencel, Mark (April 15, 2010). "NASA's Flight Plan Gets Small Course Corrections". NPR. Retrieved April 15, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee; Augustine; Austin; Chyba; et al. "Seeking A Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of A Great Nation" (PDF). Final Report. NASA. Retrieved April 15, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. President Barack Obama on Space Exploration in the 21st Century
  15. "NASA Receives 'Keys' to International Space Station from Boeing". NASA. March 5, 2010. Retrieved April 16, 2010. The football field-sized outpost is now 90 percent complete by mass, and 98 percent complete by internal volume. Supporting a multicultural crew of six, the station has a mass of almost 400 tons and more than 12,000 cubic feet of living space.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Musk, Elon (April 15, 2010). "At long last, an inspiring future for space exploration". SpaceX. Retrieved April 16, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Aldrin, Buzz (February 1, 2010). "Statement from Buzz Aldrin: A New Direction in Space" (PDF) (Press release). Office of Science and Technology Policy. Retrieved April 16, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Civilian Military Intelligence Group Neil Armstrong Writes A Letter To Obama. One That Perhaps We Should All Read, by Daniel Russ on April 14, 2010
  19. Space News, Don’t Forsake U.S. Leadership in Space, 04/25/10, By Frank Wolf
  20. Obama's Failure to Launch, By Robert Zubrin, Monday, April 19, 2010, 4:00 am
  21. USA Today, Apr 14, 2010, Obama's NASA policy: The White House vs. Neil Armstrong, By David Jackson of USA TODAY
  22. "NASA has New Authorization but Future Remains Uncertain". Space News. October 11, 2010. Retrieved February 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit (April 12, 2011). "NASA Science Budget Holds Steady". ScienceInsider. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved April 12, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "The Obama Legacy in Planetary Exploration". January 4, 2014. Retrieved November 17, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Ferster, Warren; Leone, Dan (January 8, 2014). "White House Endorses 4-year Space Station Extension".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links