President of United States, Barack Obama, presented his vision of American space program in full of enthusiasm and personal memories letter published yesterday by CNN.
In the end of his second presidential term President Obama apparently wanted to take his toll on American space program and highlight own merits. His letter published by CNN yesterday, two days before the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, was kind of summary of actions initiated by present administration and referring to American space program. President Obama mentioned about sending men to Mars in 2030s should be performed in the cooperation with private American companies. President avoid to declare in openly, which companies he considers as most promising as future partners for NASA, but surely SpaceX should be threat here as certain candidate (especially after famous conference during 27th IAC congress, devoted in fact only to Mars colonization and previous declarations about Red Dragon mission planned for 2018). Barack Obama put special attention to developing technologies for enhancing possibilities of deep space missions and increase effort to develop new technologies to make possible establishing Martian base. President also mention about creating opportunity for extended presence of men far from Low Earth Orbit, which is at the moment under development:
“The next step is to reach beyond the bounds of Earth’s orbit. I’m excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space. These missions will teach us how humans can live far from Earth — something we’ll need for the long journey to Mars.”
It is only an assumption, but probably Barack Obama mentioned at that moment about new space station designed to be placed deeper in space than International Space Station. It is not confirmed in any way, but maybe President Obama was talking about presented on May by Orbital ATK concept of cislunar outpost basing on combination of number of Cygnus spacecrafts or conception by Lockheed Martin of Mars Base Camp, which could serve as kind of stop during Mars missions or as support during Mars exploration (You can read about it here and here). All these points of the letter are good sum up of change, which appeared in NASA approach to space exploration during last decade. Multiple programs involving commercial sector of space industry like Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships gave an effect in rapid development such technologies like BEAM inflatable module attached this year to ISS or progress in development of electric propulsion for deep space missions; opening LEO for commercial sector resulted in creating CRS program. Still, all these steps are rather evolution than revolution, which was showed during Elon Musk speech on IAC in September. Commercial sector, in fact increased its presence on LEO, but only SpaceX has goal similar to vision presented by President Obama. Of course impressive vision of Martian manned mission or establishing Martian base are adequate to be used as a symbol of change in space program, but Mars started to be one of the most important goals for NASA long time before presidency of Barack Obama and probably will keep its position years after. Best symbol of evolution and fact that changes in NASA are going in to good direction is fact, that SpaceX is planning Mars mission and Blue Origin is preparing for first space touristic flights. Without technology developed by NASA and transferred to private sector all these things would not be possible.
On picture above: President Obama during White House Astronomy Night in 2015.