President Obama speaks at KSC's Operations and Checkout Building.
President Obama speaks at KSC's Operations and Checkout Building.
President Obama and Senator Bill Nelson arrive at the Shuttle Landing Facility.
President Obama and Senator Bill Nelson arrive at the Shuttle Landing Facility.

The space policy of the Barack Obama administration was announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on April 15, 2010, at a major space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center.[1] He committed to increasing NASA funding by $6 billion over five years and completing the design of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle by 2015 and to begin construction thereafter. He also predicted a U.S.-crewed orbital Mars mission by the mid-2030s, preceded by the Asteroid Redirect Mission by 2025. In response to concerns over job losses, Obama promised a $40 million effort to help Space Coast workers affected by the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program and Constellation program.

The Obama administration's space policy was made subsequent to the final report of the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee, which it had instituted to review the human spaceflight plans of the United States in the post-Space Shuttle era. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010, passed on October 11, 2010, enacted many of the Obama administration's space policy goals.


President Obama, Michelle Obama and Vice President Biden watch NASA's Lunar Electric Rover at the 2009 inaugural parade.
President Obama, Michelle Obama and Vice President Biden watch NASA's Lunar Electric Rover at the 2009 inaugural parade.

In November 2007, the Obama presidential campaign released a policy document delaying NASA's Constellation program by five years to fund education programs.[2] There was concern that any delay would prolong the gap after the Space Shuttle's retirement, when the US would be dependent on the Russian government for access to the International Space Station. Other presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, did not support the delay.[3]

In January 2008, the Obama campaign revised its position, supporting the immediate development of the Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Ares I rocket to narrow the gap. However, the new policy was silent on the heavy lift Ares V rocket and missions beyond low Earth orbit.[4]

Obama gave the first major space policy speech of his campaign in Titusville, Florida in August 2008.[5] He subsequently approved a seven-page space plan that committed to target dates for destinations beyond low Earth orbit:

He endorses the goal of sending human missions to the Moon by 2020, as a precursor in an orderly progression to missions to more distant destinations, including Mars.[6]

Obama was noted for "having offered more specifics about his plans for NASA than any U.S. presidential candidate in history".[7]

Augustine Commission

Main article: Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee

The Obama administration instituted the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee, also known as the Augustine Commission, to review the human spaceflight plans of the United States after the time NASA had planned to retire the Space Shuttle. Their goal was to ensure the nation is on "a vigorous and sustainable path to achieving its boldest aspirations in space." The review was announced by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on May 7, 2009.[8][9][10] The report was released on October 22, 2009.[11]

The Committee judged the nine-year-old Constellation program to be so behind schedule, underfunded and over budget that meeting any of its goals would not be possible. The President removed the program from the 2010 NASA budget request and a bi-partisan congress refused to fund it any longer, effectively canceling the program. One component of the program, the Orion crew capsule, was added back into plans, but only as a rescue vehicle to complement the Russian Soyuz in returning Station crews to Earth in the event of an emergency.[12]

In its final report, the Committee proposed three basic options for exploration beyond low Earth orbit, and appeared to favor the third option:

In his April 15, 2010 space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center announcing the administration's plans for NASA, none of the 3 plans outlined in the Committee's final report was completely selected.[13] The President rejected immediate plans to return to the Moon on the premise that the current plan had become nonviable. He instead promised $6 billion in additional funding and called for development of a new heavy lift rocket program to be ready for construction by 2015 with crewed missions to Mars orbit by the mid-2030s.[14]

Space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center

Obama held a space policy speech, titled "Remarks by the President on Space Exploration in the 21st Century", at the Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010. [15] Attendees included then-NASA administrator and Obama appointee Charles Bolden, Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), among others.

Modification of Orion

Obama announced the modification of the Orion capsule from its original purpose as a crewed spacecraft for flights to the ISS and the Moon into an emergency escape capsule for the International Space Station, reducing American reliance on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

In addition, as part of this effort, we will build on the good work already done on the Orion crew capsule. I've directed Charlie Bolden to immediately begin developing a rescue vehicle using this technology, so we are not forced to rely on foreign providers if it becomes necessary to quickly bring our people home from the International Space Station. And this Orion effort will be part of the technological foundation for advanced spacecraft to be used in future deep space missions. In fact, Orion will be readied for flight right here in this room.


The new policy changes from Vision for Space Exploration and Constellation program Moon-first approach to a variety of destinations resembling the flexible path approach:

Early in the next decade, a set of crewed flights will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond low Earth orbit. And by 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space. So we'll start – we'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history.

Obama promoted the idea of a crewed mission to orbit Mars by the mid-2030s with a landing as a follow-up.[citation needed]

Reliance on commercially operated launch vehicles

The Falcon 9 rocket Obama referenced in his speech was first launched on June 4, 2010.
The Falcon 9 rocket Obama referenced in his speech was first launched on June 4, 2010.

In a major shift in the function of NASA in American human spaceflight, the Obama administration proposal would rely solely on launch vehicles designed, manufactured, and operated by private aerospace companies, with NASA paying for flights for government astronauts.

Prior to the speech, Obama toured the launch facilities surrounding the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle with CEO Elon Musk which has received NASA funding through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program and could loft NASA astronauts under the new plan. In the speech, Obama referenced the maiden flight of the Falcon 9, which would go on to launch successfully less than one and a half months after the speech:

[The] Falcon 9 rocket we just saw on the launch pad...will be tested for the very first time in the coming weeks.

[citation needed]

Extension of ISS operations

Obama also announced an extension of funding for International Space Station operations, 90% complete by mass[16] at the time of the speech but scheduled to be deorbited by as early as 2015 before Obama announced the extension, which will provide funding through 2020.

And we will extend the life of the International Space Station likely by more than five years, while actually using it for its intended purpose: conducting advanced research that can help improve the daily lives of people here on Earth, as well as testing and improving upon our capabilities in space. This includes technologies like more efficient life support systems that will help reduce the cost of future missions. And in order to reach the space station, we will work with a growing array of private companies competing to make getting to space easier and more affordable.

[citation needed]

Heavy-lift launch vehicle

In the speech, Obama announced the development of a new Heavy Lift Vehicle (HLV) to replace the planned Ares V, with the design planned for completion by 2015, two years prior to the Constellation plan, and construction commencing thereafter:

Next, we will invest more than $3 billion to conduct research on an advanced "heavy lift rocket"—a vehicle to efficiently send into orbit the crew capsules, propulsion systems, and large quantities of supplies needed to reach deep space. In developing this new vehicle, we will not only look at revising or modifying older models; we want to look at new designs, new materials, new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there. And we will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it. And I want everybody to understand: That's at least two years earlier than previously planned—and that's conservative, given that the previous program was behind schedule and over budget.

[citation needed]



Prior to the speech, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk released a statement praising the proposal and criticizing Senators who had opposed it and former NASA administrator Michael Griffin:

Cancellation was therefore simply a matter of time and thankfully we have a president with the political courage to do the right thing sooner rather than later. We can ill afford the expense of an "Apollo on steroids", as a former NASA Administrator referred to the Ares/Orion program. A lesser President might have waited until after the upcoming election cycle, not caring that billions more dollars would be wasted. It was disappointing to see how many in Congress did not possess this courage. One senator in particular was determined to achieve a new altitude record in hypocrisy, claiming that the public option was bad in healthcare, but good in space![17]

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin released a statement in support of the plan via the White House on February 1, prior to the announcement of the 2011 federal budget, which included the changes Obama announced in the speech:

I continue to be excited about the development of commercial capabilities to send humans into low earth orbit and what this could ultimately mean in terms of allowing others to experience the transformative power of spaceflight. I can personally attest to what such an experience can do in creating a different perspective regarding our life on Earth and on our future. I applaud the President for his boldness and commitment in working to make this worthwhile dream a reality.[18]


Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Eugene Cernan, commanders of Apollo 11, Apollo 13, and Apollo 17 respectively, said:

Robert Zubrin, President of The Mars Society and whose book The Case for Mars first proposed a Shuttle-derived heavy lift vehicle named Ares, lambasted Obama's plans in the New York Daily News:


President Barack Obama speaks at Kennedy Space Center

Subsequent developments

The Obama administration released its new formal space policy on June 28, 2010. On July 1, 2010, the NASA administrator, Charles Bolden, said in an interview with al-Jazeera: "When I became the Nasa administrator, he [Mr Obama] charged me with three things. One, he wanted me to help reinspire children to want to get into science and math; he wanted me to expand our international relationships; and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering."[23][24] This was the first time NASA did not specifically list space exploration as a priority. [25]

The NASA Authorization Act of 2010, passed on October 11, 2010, authorized funds for NASA for fiscal year 2011–2013, and enacted many of his stated space policy goals. A total of $58 billion in funding is called for, spread across three years.[26]

The 2011 budget legislation, passed in April 2011, officially terminated the Constellation program. The passage of the budget frees NASA to start working on the new initiatives.[27]

In September 2011, details were announced of the Space Launch System, a Shuttle-Derived Launch Vehicle being developed by NASA as a replacement for the Ares I and Ares V rockets of the Constellation program.

The Obama administration cut NASA's planetary-sciences budget by 20 percent in 2013, as part of a restructuring plan, contrary to the recommendations of the National Research Council.[28]

In January 2014 the Obama administration announced it would seek to extend the operational life of the International Space Station by four more years to 2024.[29]

See also


  1. ^ Chang, Kenneth (April 15, 2010). "Obama Promises Renewed Space Program". The New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2010.
  2. ^ "Barack Obama's plan for lifetime success through education" (PDF). Obama for America. November 26, 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 2, 2008. Retrieved November 1, 2011. The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years...
  3. ^ Kaufman, Marc (November 23, 2007). "Clinton Favors Future Human Spaceflight". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 1, 2011.
  4. ^ "Barack Obama's Plan For American Leadership in Space". SpaceRef. January 10, 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  5. ^ Peterson, Patrick (August 8, 2008). "Sen. Barack Obama Pledges Space Advocacy". Florida Today. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  6. ^ "Advancing the frontiers of space exploration" (PDF). Obama for America. August 15, 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 28, 2008. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  7. ^ Berger, Brian (November 10, 2008). "On Heels of Campaign Promises, Obama Faces Big NASA Decisions". Space News. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  8. ^ "U.S. Announces Review of Human Space Flight Plans" (PDF). Office of Science and Technology Policy. May 7, 2009. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  9. ^ "NASA launches another Web site". United Press International. June 8, 2009. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  10. ^ Bonilla, Dennis (September 8, 2009). "Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee". NASA. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
  11. ^ Sciencemag – No to NASA Archived May 13, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Stencel, Mark (April 15, 2010). "NASA's Flight Plan Gets Small Course Corrections". NPR. Retrieved April 15, 2010.
  13. ^ Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee; Augustine; Austin; Chyba; et al. "Seeking A Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of A Great Nation" (PDF). Final Report. NASA. Retrieved April 15, 2010.
  14. ^ President Barack Obama on Space Exploration in the 21st Century
  15. ^ "Remarks by the President on Space Exploration in the 21st Century". NASA. April 15, 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  16. ^ "NASA Receives 'Keys' to International Space Station from Boeing". NASA. March 5, 2010. Retrieved April 16, 2010. The football field-sized outpost is now 90 percent complete by mass, and 98 percent complete by internal volume. Supporting a multicultural crew of six, the station has a mass of almost 400 tons and more than 12,000 cubic feet of living space.
  17. ^ Musk, Elon (April 15, 2010). "At long last, an inspiring future for space exploration". SpaceX. Retrieved April 16, 2010.
  18. ^ Aldrin, Buzz (February 1, 2010). "Statement from Buzz Aldrin: A New Direction in Space" (PDF) (Press release). Office of Science and Technology Policy. Retrieved April 16, 2010.
  19. ^ Civilian Military Intelligence Group Neil Armstrong Writes A Letter To Obama. One That Perhaps We Should All Read, by Daniel Russ on April 14, 2010
  20. ^ Space News, Don't Forsake U.S. Leadership in Space, 04/25/10, By Frank Wolf
  21. ^ USA Today, Apr 14, 2010, Obama's NASA policy: The White House vs. Neil Armstrong, By David Jackson of USA TODAY
  22. ^ Obama's Failure to Launch, By Robert Zubrin, Monday, April 19, 2010, 4:00 am
  23. ^ "Talk to Al Jazeera - NASA administrator Charles Bolden". Al Jazeera English. July 1, 2010.
  24. ^ "Barack Obama: Nasa must try to make Muslims 'feel good'". The Daily Telegraph. July 6, 2010.
  25. ^ . July 8, 2010 Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  26. ^ "NASA has New Authorization but Future Remains Uncertain". Space News. October 11, 2010. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
  27. ^ Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit (April 12, 2011). "NASA Science Budget Holds Steady". ScienceInsider. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved April 12, 2011.
  28. ^ "The Obama Legacy in Planetary Exploration". January 4, 2014. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  29. ^ Ferster, Warren; Leone, Dan (January 8, 2014). "White House Endorses 4-year Space Station Extension".
Preceded by
Space policy of the George W. Bush administration
Space policy of the United States
Succeeded by
Space policy of the Donald Trump administration