Obama ends shuttle era, says he will live to see Man on Mars

ABC News' Ann Compton ( @AnnCompton) reports:

Barack Obama was eight years old when Neil Armstrong made his “one small step for Man” on the face of the Moon, and now as President, Obama has told NASA: “been there, done that.” Instead of aiming toward creation of a base on the Moon, as envisioned by his predecessor, President Obama wants to target deep space.

“We’ve set a goal to let’s ultimately get to Mars. A good pit stop is an asteroid,” the President explained at a townhall meeting this week. “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.”

He was asked about the future of manned space flight less than 48 hours before the final shuttle mission lifted off, carrying a small crew of four aboard the Atlantis to deliver food and supplies to the International Space Station.

President Obama issued a written statement praising “thousands of dedicated workers who have poured their hearts and souls into America’s Space Shuttle program over the past three decades.” But the era is over.

“It propels us into the next era of our never-ending adventure to push the very frontiers of exploration and discovery in space. We’ll drive new advances in science and technology,” the statement read. But it will not be any time soon.

“In order to do that,” the President told the townhall, “we’re actually going to need some technological breakthroughs that we don’t have yet.”

As for Americans space for the next decade or two he said, “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.”

Under the Obama plan, the target dates seem light years away.

"By the mid 2030’s,” the President announced at the Kennedy Space Center last year, ”I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow and I expect to be around to see it."

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