During a speech today at Cape Canaveral, FL, President Obama announced that his Administration is committed to the long-term future of the U.S. space program. In fact, he announced that he’s increasing NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years. That money will be spent on "new designs, new materials, new technologies that will transform not just where we can go but what we can do when we get there."  Is this a bold step forward or a foolish step backward?

During a speech today at Cape Canaveral, FL, President Barack Obama announced that his Administration is committed to the long-term future of the U.S. space program. In fact, he announced that he’s increasing NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years.

That money will be spent on new projects, such as the Orion crew capsule. In addition, more than $3 billion will be earmarked to conduct research on an advanced heavy lift rocket, a vehicle that will 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,” says Obama. “And, we will finalize a rocket design no later than 2015 and then begin to build it.

“Early in the next decade, a set of crewed flights will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond low earth orbit,” adds Obama. “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.

“We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, 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.

“But, . . . critical to deep space exploration will be the development of breakthrough propulsion systems and other advanced technologies. So, I’m challenging NASA to break through these barriers.”

Advanced manufacturing will play a key role in realizing these ambitious goals. The same thing occurred 50 years ago, when NASA was created.

Back in the 1960s, just about every other issue of ASSEMBLY Magazine contained news pertaining to manufacturing advancements that were spurred on by the space program. Many new types of materials and innovative joining techniques that we take for granted today evolved during that era.

Should the United States go back to the 1960s again and invest heavily in the space program? There are good arguments for and against it.

President Obama concluded his speech today by addressing this issue: “I know that some Americans have asked a question that’s particularly apt on Tax Day. Why spend money on NASA at all? Why spend money solving problems in space when we don’t lack for problems to solve here on the ground?

“We have to fix our economy. We need to close our deficits. But, for pennies on the dollar, the space program has fueled jobs and entire industries. For pennies on the dollar, the space program has improved our lives, advanced our society, strengthened our economy, and inspired generations of Americans. And, I have no doubt that NASA can continue to fulfill this role.”

What do your think of today’s speech at the Kennedy Space Center? Is this a bold step forward or a foolish step backward?