That was one small speech for a President, but one Giant Leap for America’s space program!

I have just had the honor of being with the President of the United States for the unveiling of a bold new vision for America’s space program. Today’s announcement by President Bush of the challenging new job he has given NASA is the right stuff, at the right moment in history. This is what the American people have been waiting to hear for more than three decades and the clearest Presidential mandate for our space agency since President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University more than 40 years ago.

Back to the Moon, and On to Mars! Not just a rally cry, but also a roadmap – a roadmap that takes us back to the future. Back to the sands of Taurus-Littrow, where on Dec. 14, 1972 Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt were the last astronauts to wave farewell to their lunar science base. And on to the red landscape of Mars, where NASA’s Spirit rover is already at work, paving the way for the humans who will one day surely come.

Make no mistake — America is ready to resume the exploration of space in a big way. The outpouring of public support we have seen since the loss of shuttle Columbia has underscored what surveys and focus groups have consistently told us for years. Americans want a strong space program that builds upon our past leadership while taking us resolutely into the future.

The President has proposed just such a program. It is now up to all Americans not to nitpick or politic this plan to death but, instead, to rally behind it and take our space program boldly forward.

Our work on the Moon is not complete. It is time to get on with it.

Our first steps toward Mars are now being taken. We must do what it takes to complete the journey, and not abandon Mars for 30 years as we did the Moon.

Americans know that this space exploration renaissance won’t be cheap and that the current federal budget situation stinks. That hardly matters. The new space exploration policy calls for only modest increases in the NASA budget. Even if the funding increase were dramatic, NASA programs would still only account for the tiniest percentage of federal spending when viewed in the vast landscape of the federal budget.

Let’s be clear. Denying NASA the support it needs to succeed, and denying the American taxpayer the vast benefits of a robust space exploration program will not fix the federal budget situation. The answer to that challenge lays elsewhere, and the invention and innovation that this new space age will spark is undoubtedly part of the solution.

Nor will this daring new space enterprise be without risk. Leadership never is. But America is ready to go. Americans are ready to go. We are the greatest nation on the planet not just because of what we do today, but because of the investments we made, and the risks we took, decades ago. Our space program has been a root cause of our technology superiority and a significant part of our culture and spirit as well. It defines us as the nation with the “Right Stuff.”

America is no longer alone in space. Russia, Europe, Japan, China, India, and others have credible space programs. But America need not cede its leadership in space. We can work in friendship with other nations in a way that ensures our continued leadership.

The bold vision announced by the President today embraces this new paradigm.

There are many reasons this new initiative is so important, and not the least of them is the likely impact of the program on education. Throughout history, there has been a direct correlation between bold NASA initiatives and enrollment in scientific and technical programs in America’s colleges and universities. We at the Space Foundation see daily the impact NASA activities can have in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. At a time when there is so much concern about education in America, this is exactly the shot of adrenaline our students and educators have been waiting for. We are ready to be held in thrall once more, and for a new generation to be inspired to the scientific and technical careers of the future that will support humanity’s migration outward from the Home Planet — even as they spawn new technologies and industries as yet unimagined.

A constant refrain for the roughly 20 years that I’ve worked in or around the space industry has been the plaintive cry for a clear vision for NASA, articulated forcefully by the President and supported by the Congress. At last we have it. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, NASA Administrator O’Keefe and their teams have stepped up to the challenge. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have shown the bi-partisan support that has always been the hallmark of America’s civil space endeavor.

Now it is up to us. It is time to boldly go. Back to the Moon, and On to Mars!