Obama to propose $6 billion NASA budget increase

The space shuttle Discovery STS-131 lifts off from launch pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 5, 2010. REUTERS/Pierre Ducharme

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will outline a revamped space policy on Thursday that will use $6 billion in new funding over five years to create 2,500 new jobs in Florida with the ultimate goal of going to Mars.

Obama has been facing criticism from some members of the far-flung U.S. space community over the direction of space policy after NASA officials announced plans in March to kill the Constellation program that had been designed to launch astronauts into orbit and return Americans to the moon.

The Constellation program, developed under the Bush administration, was aimed at returning astronauts to the moon in the 2020s to clear the way for a Mars mission.

White House officials said on Tuesday that Obama wants NASA to begin work on building a new heavy lift rocket sooner than envisioned under the canceled Constellation program, with a commitment to decide in 2015 on the specific rocket that will take astronauts deeper into space.

“This is a rocket that is going to happen two years earlier than would’ve happened under the past program,” a senior White House official said.

Obama would restructure the Constellation program and allow NASA to develop the Orion crew capsule to provide stand-by emergency escape capabilities for the International Space Station.

His policy would also direct NASA to launch into space a steady stream of robotic exploration missions to scout locations and demonstrate technologies to increase the safety and capability of future human missions.

To ease the transition for workers dislocated while the new space strategy is being implemented, Obama is proposing to dedicate $40 million of the funds requested for the Constellation transition to transform the regional economy around NASA’s Florida facilities and prepare its workforce for the new opportunities.

“This new strategy means more money for NASA, more jobs for the country, more astronaut time in space, and more investments in innovation,” said a senior White House official.

Reporting by Steve Holland, editing by Philip Barbara