April 20, 2008 in Nation/World

NASA sets sights on moon, Mars

Martin Merzer McClatchy
 

MIAMI – Though still stuck with the orbital delivery truck known as the space shuttle, a re-energized NASA is determined to elevate its sights and aim at the moon, Mars and other more distant – and more theatrical – goals, a top agency official said.

“The dream is going beyond low-Earth orbit,” said Deputy Administrator Shana Dale, in South Florida for Friday’s daylong Future Forum at the University of Miami.

“We have not been to the moon in decades and, currently, we don’t possess that capability,” she said. “So we’re embarking on a path to create human spaceflight capability to take us to the moon, Mars and beyond.”

She acknowledged that budgets are tight and public support is equivocal. But, she said, the practical and other benefits of the nation’s space program make the effort worthwhile.

“NASA represents six-tenths of 1 percent of the federal budget, and with that we do all of these amazing things,” said Dale, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s second highest official. “The Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Station, planetary (exploration) systems, Mars rovers and on and on.”

During Friday’s event, partially sponsored by NASA as part of its 50th anniversary celebration, Dale planned to lobby for additional support of the space program – framing it in the terms of the “Space Economy,” a new term making its way around the agency.

“That means all the activities and all the technologies that flow out of what we do from exploring, understanding and utilizing space,” Dale said, citing 1,600 documented “NASA-derived” technologies, including advanced breast cancer imaging.

The space economy certainly has been good for Florida, home of the Kennedy Space Center, where nearly 15,000 people work, but that might be changing.

The shuttle will be grounded in 2010, its replacement – called the Constellation – will not be ready until at least 2015, and NASA recently announced that at least 5,000 jobs will disappear at the space center by 2013.

“To the degree we can shorten the gap, that’s going to be important – not only for Florida but for the rest of the United States,” Dale said.

During the next few years, major contracts will be awarded, she said, “and that has the potential to definitely mitigate the numbers we are seeing now in terms of job losses in Florida.”

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