On 17 October 2012, a meeting was held inside of NASA. This was not an agency-wide meeting, but rather one of a number of meetings focused on NASA's future strategic directions. Some participants joined in via telephone. The topic focused on the future of the International Space Station (ISS). The HEOMD (Human Exloration Operations Mission Directorate) team made their presentation which included a plan to run the ISS through 2028.
This long term ISS operations plan did not sit well will NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Bolden said that he needed to know directly from President Obama whether or not missions to Mars starting in the 2030s was to be NASA's ultimate goal. If this is not the President's goal for NASA, then Bolden wondered why NASA should be expected to continue funding the ISS for another decade and a half.
At one point, Bolden teared up and said that "Mars is the Goal". Bolden claimed that he was intent upon going to the White House, "pounding his shoe on the table", and demanding a commitment from President Obama to direct NASA to send humans to Mars. Bolden said that he needs that commitment to allow him to decide what to do (not do) with regard to extending the ISS.
Given that the Administration is focused on re-election, it is rather unlikely that Bolden is going to be pounding his shoe inside the Obama White House any time soon. Given uncertain congressional elections and looming sequestration, it is beyond unlikely that any formal multi-year commitment to Mars is going to happen for some time under President Obama. Bolden's influence on the Obama Administration presumes, of course, that he remains as the agency's Administrator for a second Obama Administration. I am not certain that "shoe pounding" would help in this regard.
As for the effect Bolden's shoe pounding for Mars will have with the Romney folks (should they win), their space policy etch-a sketch is a little vague right now. But they have been rather clear that there won't be any budget increases for NASA. Also, it is rather improbable that Charlie Bolden will pull a Dan Goldin maneuver and serve as Administrator under a Romney Administration.
What is a bit baffling about Bolden's latest concerns behind closed doors about Mars and the President is that the President has been rather chatty about the topic. The following is a random collection of search results from the White House website for "Mars NASA". It would seem that President Obama makes a point of mentioning human missions to Mars almost every time he talks about NASA. As such, adapting the agency's efforts along those lines would seem to be what the President exepeects Charlie Bolden to be doing, yes?
NASA is looking at doing one year stays on ISS and there is talk of a crewed station in lunar space - possibly constructed using ISS components and/or technology - just the sort of things you'd expect the ISS to be used for as a more expansive human infrastructure was being contemplated.
If Charlie Bolden wants an immediate presidential space policy pronouncement ala Kennedy, Bush, etc. I'd advise him to turn on TV. With the economy and the world being what it is, that just is not going to happen any time soon.
Selected Obama Comments of NASA and Mars
OMB FY 13 Budget summary
"Implements a lower cost program of robotic exploration of Mars that will advance science and will also help lay the foundation for future human exploration"
21st Century Space Exploration: "The Next Chapter That We Can Write Together Here at NASA", WHite House
"Early in the next decade, a set of crewed flights will test and prove the systems required for exploration beyond low Earth orbit. And by 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space. So we'll start -- we'll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it."
NASA Announces Next Steps in Launching Americans from U.S. Soil, White House
"And second, just two years ago, at Kennedy Space Center, President Obama set a goal of sending humans farther into space than we have ever been -- to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s."
NASA Mars Rover Team Hears From President Obama, NASA
"What you've accomplished embodies the American spirit," the president said. "Our expectation is that Curiosity is going to be telling us things we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that's a human mission to Mars." Obama said Curiosity's landing advances his goals of improving education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. "This is the kind of thing that inspires kids across the country," he said. "They're telling their moms and dads they want to be part of a Mars mission, maybe even the first person to walk on Mars."
NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain, NASA
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden" "This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid-2030's, and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal."
Statement by the President on the Launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, White House
"Today's launch may mark the final flight of the Space Shuttle, but it propels us into the next era of our never-ending adventure to push the very frontiers of exploration and discovery in space. We'll drive new advances in science and technology. We'll enhance knowledge, education, innovation, and economic growth. And I have tasked the men and women of NASA with an ambitious new mission: to break new boundaries in space exploration, ultimately sending Americans to Mars."
President Obama Calls Crews of Atlantis and the International Space Station, NASA
"The President wants NASA to capitalize on America's entrepreneurial energies to drive a competition to reach Low Earth Orbit and the space station, all while tasking the men and women of NASA with an ambitious new mission: to break new boundaries in space exploration, ultimately sending Americans to Mars."