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Exclusive: New Bush space speech planned

By FRANK SIETZEN, United Press International   |   May 10, 2004 at 3:28 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, May 10 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush plans to make a major speech early this summer defending his plan for a new U.S. space exploration initiative, administration sources told United Press International.

Sources said although drafting the speech -- termed a vigorous call to support the president's new space exploration policy he announced last January -- has not yet begun, aides have been narrowing prospective dates and venues.

"The president wants to speak about space," a senior administration source said.

The speech apparently will be timed to coincide with a report by the presidential commission appointed earlier this year to review the space plan and seek broad public comment. The commission, headed by former Pentagon executive Pete Aldridge and featuring leaders from industry, non-profit groups and the military, is expected to release its report in July.

Sources said Bush has been briefed on the hearings held by the commission and is awaiting its report to help frame his forthcoming remarks. Despite the approaching presidential election, the speech, which will reiterate Bush's call for advanced human exploration of space, will not necessarily be made "in a political context."

Sources said although there has not been widespread support for the space plan since its debut, the president has felt no need to rush to make additional public comments. Bush has remained "highly enthusiastic" about his space proposal and his lack of additional mentions of the idea should not be taken as a cooling of interest, they said.

UPI also has learned new details about the space exploration plan. For one thing, the reorganization plan for NASA meant to coincide with the new effort, now named Project Constellation, "is not ready to go," sources said. Senior space agency leadership is focusing on the reorganization plan -- also to be rolled out following release of the presidential commission's report and drafted "in tandem" with its recommendations.

"It's a stew still in the making," one source said, describing the effort, which looks to be the most far-reaching revamping of NASA since its creation in 1958. However, one element now described as "off the table" is the possibility of closing any of the agency's field centers.

"That's not under consideration," a source said, adding that virtually every other type of organizational change is still on the table.

Another new development: NASA has become increasingly optimistic that some form of robotic rescue is possible for the aging Hubble Space Telescope.

Sources said contrary to some news reports about how NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe's Jan. 16 announcement -- in which he said there would be no more space shuttle missions to the Hubble -- came abruptly, O'Keefe had briefed Bush about the impending announcement in mid-December, warning him it would be a contentious issue.

Reportedly, Bush agreed, saying at one point, "You must do what you have to do."

Later, during a briefing by NASA officials following the public outcry over the Hubble decision, Bush simply said, "Never look back," and added, "Go forth every single day and do the best job you can."

Bush also told senior NASA leaders: "The worst thing that can happen is the (voters) send me back to Crawford (Texas) -- so that's liberating."

Meanwhile, NASA, prodded by the White House, is beginning to examine ways to involve foreign countries in the new space exploration program. Agency officials are developing a plan to open up the various elements of the project to international participation. That plan also is expected to be completed and released this summer.

Along those lines, NASA management is said to be going "back and forth" on the issue of when, in the process of assembling the International Space Station, to launch the Japanese Kibo research module. Current plans call for its flight to the station to come late in the assembly sequence.

The late scheduling has been strongly criticized by the Japanese government, to the point where some officials have suggested canceling the project and putting the laboratory "in a science museum," according to a source who has worked with Japan on the issue.

--

Frank Sietzen covers aerospace for UPI Science News. E-mail sciencemail@upi.com

© 2004 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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