WASHINGTON, April 15, 2010— -- President Obama is expected to announce two major developments today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida that could take the nation's space program to another level.
The first is the development of a new "heavy lift rocket" that will be used to lift future deep-space craft and is supposed to "push the boundaries" of U.S. exploration in space with the ultimate goal of sending American astronauts to Mars.
The second is the re-structuring of the Orion crew capsule, with a simpler design focused on crew emergency escape from the international space station. Administration officials say this renovation will lay "the foundation for future exploration spacecraft."
These expected announcements come on the heels of other major steps the administration has taken to revamp the nation's space program, including a $6 billion funding increase for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and a plan to redirect resources within the space agency and put an end to programs that administration officials say are years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.
Critics say NASA is being dramatically scaled back and tens of thousands of jobs are expected to be lost.
The administration insists that this plan is actually going to create 2,500 more jobs in the Florida Space Coast by 2012 and 10,000 over the next decade. The new jobs will come from the development of the commercial space industry and a plan to modernize the Kennedy Space Center.
In addition, the administration says it will launch a $40 million multi-agency initiative to help the Space Coast transform its economy.
White House officials say the bulk of the job losses have been triggered by the decision by the previous Bush administration to cancel the shuttle program in 2004, and that the new jobs created will not replace all those lost shuttle jobs.
However, they say the new program will put the space program on a better trajectory, with more money for NASA, more jobs for the country, more innovation, more astronaut time in space, more rockets launching sooner and a fundamentally more ambitious and sustainable space program.