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Obama Restates Commitment to "Potential" Human Mission to Asteroid as Prelude to Mars

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Aug-2012
Updated: 30-Aug-2012 09:07 AM

President Obama took to the social networking site Reddit yesterday in a question and answer session that included an exchange about the space program.  He said that staying "at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority"  and investments in cutting edge research are needed to enable human trips to Mars preceded by a "potential" mission to an asteroid.

Reddit allows members to engage in "Ask Me Anything" sessions.   Yesterday, the President made a guest appearance saying that he could answer questions for about 30 minutes.    The answers provoke long chains of discussions among the site's members, but Reddit provided a summary of the questions and the President's answers.

Perhaps what is most surprising is that a question about the space program was one of those asked, nestled among politics, sports, beer, and Internet freedom.   The exchange about the space program went as follows:

Question:

Are you considering increasing funds to the space program?

Answer:

Making sure we stay at the forefront of space exploration is a big priority for my administration. The passing of Neil Armstrong this week is a reminder of the inspiration and wonder that our space program has provided in the past; the curiosity probe on mars is a reminder of what remains to be discovered. The key is to make sure that we invest in cutting edge research that can take us to the next level - so even as we continue work with the international space station, we are focused on a potential mission to a [sic] asteroid as a prelude to a manned Mars flight.

Qualifying the reference to an asteroid mission as "potential" might suggest that he is less committed to that goal than he was at the time of his April 15, 2010 speech at Kennedy Space Center.  It was there that he declared an asteroid would be the next destination for the U.S. human spaceflight program.  However, it would be a stretch to draw such a conclusion from a single statement during a Q&A session.

All the questions directed to the President, in the order asked, were the following:

  • why should young people work to get you reelected when they are demoralized due to unemployment;
  • what's the recipe for the White House's beer;
  • how will you end the corrupting influence of money in politics;
  • what was your most difficult decision during this term;
  • what is the first thing you will do on November 7, win or lose;
  • how will you help small businesses;
  • who is your favorite basketball player;
  • will you push the issue of Internet freedom in the Democratic Party's 2012 platform;
  • are you considering increasing funds for the space program;
  • how do you balance family life and hobbies with being President?

Although the President said he would answer questions for about 30 minutes, the New York Times reports that the session lasted a little more than an hour and attracted 30,000 people, causing the site to "buckle under the load."  The newspaper also said the questions were posted "in advance of the president's arrival on the site."


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