Sen. Barack Obama Pledges Space Advocacy
A Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) launches atop an Ares rocket in this illustration.
Credit: NASA/John Frassanito and Associates.

TITUSVILLE - Sen. Barack Obama promised not to cut NASA funding and said Saturday at a town hall meeting he will rely on Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and revered astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn to help form his space policy.

"Under my watch, NASA will inspire the world once again and is going to help grow the economy right here in Brevard County," said the presumptive Democratic nominee, speaking to a crowd of 1,400 at Brevard Community College's Titusville campus.

Obama has changed an earlier position, in which he planned to delay the Constellation program five years and use up to $5 billion from the NASA budget for education.

"Here's what I'm committing to: Continue Constellation. We're going to close the gap (between the end of shuttle flight and the next program, Constellation). We may have additional shuttle flights," he said.

"My commitment is to seamless transition, where we're utilizing the space station in an intelligent way, and we're preparing for the next generation of space travel."

In an interview with FLORIDA TODAY after the speech, Obama would not detail whether he plans to change President Bush's vision of returning to the moon and going to Mars. Obama also would not pledge to sign a $2 billion increase to NASA's $17 billion budget. The proposal might save some of the 3,400 jobs that are expected to be lost at Kennedy Space Center.

"I don't want to give clear figures yet. I want to have a thorough evaluation of a combination of manned and unmanned missions, what kind of exploration would be the most appropriate, and I want the budget to follow the plan. I'd want to see the proposal first," he said.

With appearances Friday and Saturday in Central Florida, Republican candidate Sen. John McCain and Obama are battling head to head for votes in the crucial Interstate 4 technology corridor of Florida. McCain spoke at the Urban League convention Friday in Orlando, and Obama also was scheduled to speak Saturday to the organization.

In Titusville, Obama entered the town hall meeting with Nelson as the audience pounded on the bleachers and cheered.

"Yes, we can!" the crowd chanted.

"I've been working Barack, telling him it's the I-4 corridor of Florida that will make a difference," Nelson said.

The presidential candidate began by pointing out that gas and food prices are soaring, job losses continue and the average American's income has decreased by $1,000 in the past eight years. "Are you better off now than you were four years ago or eight years ago?" he asked the crowd.

"No!" they shouted.

Obama outlined a short-term relief plan that includes a $1,000 tax reduction for 95 percent of Americans, an additional mortgage interest deduction, no income taxes for seniors who earn $50,000 or less and equal pay for equal work for women. He also plans a $50 billion stimulus proposal: Half would go to local governments, and half would go to build roads and bridges.

These programs would be paid for by taxes on windfall profits of oil companies and by repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations.

"All those things are just in the short term. We've got to bring back our long-term prosperity," he said. "I have often said that this election is a defining moment in our history.?

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