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President Obama promotes exploration of Mars through private-public partnership

President Barack Obama revisited Mars this morning. In a piece published by CNN, Obama waxed lyrical in championing continued space exploration, boasted a bit about his presidency, and — most importantly — outlined a plan to partner with private companies and send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s.

“One of my earliest memories is sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders, waving a flag as our astronauts returned to Hawaii,” Obama writes. “This was years before we’d set foot on the moon. Decades before we’d land a rover on Mars. A generation before photos from the International Space Station would show up in our social media feeds.”

Obama notes that his administration has been a science-centric one, promoting STEM education, revitalizing NASA, and supporting the more than 1,000 private-sector companies as they’ve jostle for roles in today’s space industry.

Behind the presidential rhetoric, the piece reads as a message of welcome for private companies and a motivational letter for students. Obama invites firms to partner with NASA, offering them the opportunity to participate in the International Space Station in the coming years. And he encourages society to support future students — “the Mars generation” — in their STEM studies.

“We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time,” Obama writes. “Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.”

The White House will gather scientists, engineers, innovators, and students this week in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to discuss the future of space exploration. NASA also announced today that it has begun preparing for these partnerships in deep space missions, including the “broad agency announcement” in 2014 that invited private partners to propose “concept studies and development projects in advanced propulsion, small satellites, and habitation” for the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.

“Someday, I hope to hoist my own grandchildren onto my shoulders,” Obama writes. “We’ll still look to the stars in wonder, as humans have since the beginning of time. But instead of eagerly awaiting the return of our intrepid explorers, we’ll know that because of the choices we make now, they’ve gone to space not just to visit, but to stay — and in doing so, to make our lives better here on Earth.”

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