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At Space Center, Obama defends changes in space program

President Barack Obama says the U.S. space program is not a luxury but a necessity for the nation. He says he is "100 percent committed" to NASA and its future. (April 15)

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said in a statement: "This new plan does not represent an advancement in policy or an improvement upon the Constellation program, but a continued abdication of America's leadership in space."

Shelby is from one of several Gulf Coast states that will lose jobs tied to the space program under Obama's plan. Overall, the NASA budget is to increase by $1 billion annually over the next five years under the 2011 budget proposal, but more of the agency's funds would be distributed to science, aeronautics and commercial entrepreneurs than under President George W. Bush.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), whose state also stands to lose work with the canceling of Constellation, said after the speech: "I would say the administration's plan is laughable, but I can't find much humor in it when the consequences to space exploration and American workers during tough economic times are so dire."

But reflecting the mood of the day from the administration, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said: "The president believes good policy is good politics."

The president focused Thursday on plans to design and develop different kinds of "heavy lift" rockets that can take astronauts out of low Earth orbit and into deep space. He wants Congress to approve plans to spend more than $3.1 billion in the next five years on the project, and said NASA would select and begin to build the selected model in 2015.

One potential major beneficiary of the administration's turn to the commercial space industry to resupply and perhaps ferry crew members to and from the space station is Elon Musk, president and founder of SpaceX. The company's Falcon 9 is being prepared for a spring test launch from Cape Canaveral, and Obama visited the rocket at Launch Complex 40.

"I believe this address could be as important as President Kennedy's 1962 speech at Rice University," Musk said Thursday. "For the first time since Apollo, our country will have a plan for space exploration that inspires and excites all who look to the stars. Even more important, it will work."

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