Echoing John F. Kennedy's historic challenge to the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960's, President Obama called on NASA scientists and engineers to launch a manned mission to Mars within three decades.
"By the mid-2030's, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth," said Obama. "A landing on Mars will follow," he added.
Obama's words were part of an address the President gave Thursday at Florida's Kennedy Space Center designed to rally NASA and the country behind a controversial White House plan.
The plan would terminate the space shuttle program by year's end, outsource launches to private contractors, and cancel major portions of a project that would have returned humans to the moon by 2020.
Obama said NASA will get more bang for its buck under his vision, and noted that that the space agency is in line for a $6 billion funding increase over the next five years under his proposed federal budget.
"Nobody is more committed to manned space flight than I am," the President said.
Obama said NASA should focus on conquering new frontiers instead of revisiting places, like the lunar surface, where astronauts have already set foot.
"By 2025 we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first ever missions beyond the moon into deep space," Obama said. Such journeys, the President argued, would pave the way for missions to Mars.
Obama's plan also calls for the construction of an advanced space telescope to replace the aging Hubble, a $3 billion investment in new, heavy-lift rockets, and the building of a new space capsule.
The capsule could be used as an escape vehicle if astronauts need to depart the International Space Station in an emergency, Obama said.