By Bob Cusack
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) wants President Barack Obama to seek a man on Mars.
In a floor speech on Tuesday, Nelson said the United States can develop the technology to send astronauts to Mars.
Nelson, whose state houses NASA's Kennedy Space Center, praised Obama for proposing a budget increase for NASA. However, he sharply criticized the White House for how it handled its decision to cancel the Constellation Program, which was scheduled to go to the Moon by 2020.
That program, Nelson pointed out, was supported by Obama when he was running for president. And Obama's decision to kill the program, which was outlined in his budget request, created "the perception that it is killing the manned space program for the United States. That perception is not entirely true... We live in a world where perception often governs instead of the actual substance."
Nelson, who spent six days orbiting Earth aboard space shuttle Columbia as a sitting member of the House in 1986, said Obama needs to set the big goal of going to Mars: "Presidents are the only ones who can lead America's space program. A Senate commitee cannot do it. The administrator of NASA cannot do it. Only presidents can set the vision and the goal, and that goal ought to be what we all know is where we want to go and that is to the planet Mars."
Six years ago, President George W. Bush proposed human missions to Mars, but Congress did not embrace it.