While Monday’s inauguration was largely focused on President Barack Obama, NASA took some time to shine, demonstrating the future of the space agency and, quite likely, the future of space travel.
The agency, which released a number of images of the inauguration, put on display two of its most ambitious projects, one of which is currently crawling across the surface of Mars. NASA officials joined the inaugural parade with a replica of its Mars Curiosity rover, which is currently driving and drilling its way across the surface of the Red Planet . The other project on display Monday was an Orion space capsule, a project that NASA is betting on for the future of space travel.
The pair of projects passed in front of President Obama late Monday afternoon. Obama, who has taken an interest in NASA’s Mars mission, was clearly wowed by the display. The President was shown smiling and waving to the NASA members accompanying the float.
Walking the parade were a number of Curiosity members, including NASA’s Mohawk Guy — also known as Bobak Ferdowsi, NASA’s flight director for the Curiosity Mars landing mission. Curiosity project manager Richard Cook, mission manager Jennifer Trosper, and deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada also joined the crew. Several NASA astronauts, including Michael Massimino, also joined administrators on the ground.
The photos come at the conclusion of a long day for Obama. The president presided over Monday’s parade, which followed a walk down Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Avenue from Capitol Hill — where Obama delivered his second inaugural address.
Monday’s NASA exhibit comes as President Obama has sought to find budget cuts in NASA’s years funding. Obama’s first term was marked by a rough patch for the U.S. space agency. Under Obama’s first term the agency witnessed the end of the shuttle program, budget cuts that likely reduce the agency’s ability to launch a manned mission to Mars by 2030, and the need to partner with Russia and private companies in order to keep the International Space Station operating and staffed.
That said, the agency’s success on Mars marks a significant bright spot. Following the agency’s successful touchdown on Mars, President Obama phoned the mission crew to express his amazement and offer his congratulations. The $2.5 billion rover is currently working on a two-year mission aimed at determining whether Mars could have ever supported life.
Meanwhile, the Orion program — featured on Monday — will perform its first flight-test some time next year, according to NASA. Launching atop a Delta 4-Heavy rocket, the capsule will embark on a three-orbit shakedown trip to gather data on system performance.