July 6, 2010: President Obama answers a question about space at his Twitter Town Hall.
QUESTION: “Now that the space shuttle is gone, where does America stand in space exploration?”
THE PRESIDENT: We are still a leader in space exploration. But, frankly, I have been pushing NASA to revamp its vision. The shuttle did some extraordinary work in low-orbit experiments, the International Space Station, moving cargo. It was an extraordinary accomplishment and we’re very proud of the work that it did. But now what we need is that next technological breakthrough.
We’re still using the same models for space travel that we used with the Apollo program 30, 40 years ago. And so what we’ve said is, rather than keep on doing the same thing, let’s invest in basic research around new technologies that can get us places faster, allow human space flight to last longer.
And what you’re seeing now is NASA I think redefining its mission. And we’ve set a goal to let’s ultimately get to Mars. A good pit stop is an asteroid. I haven’t actually — we haven’t identified the actual asteroid yet, in case people are wondering. (Laughter.) But the point is, let’s start stretching the boundaries so we’re not doing the same thing over and over again, but rather let’s start thinking about what’s the next horizon, what’s the next frontier out there.
But in order to do that, we’re actually going to need some technological breakthroughs that we don’t have yet. And what we can do is for some of this low-orbit stuff, some of the more routine space travel — obviously no space travel is routine, but it could become more routine over time — let’s allow the private sector to get in so that they can, for example, send these low-Earth orbit vehicles into space and we may be able to achieve a point in time where those of you who are just dying to go into space, you can buy a ticket, and a private carrier can potentially take you up there, while the government focuses on the big breakthroughs that require much larger investments and involve much greater risk.