Obama Lays Out Future Of American Space Exploration: Key Details (PHOTOS)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – President Barack Obama declared Thursday he was "100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future" as he outlined plans for federal spending to bring more private companies into space exploration following the soon-to-end space shuttle program.

"We want to leap into the future," not continue on the same path as before, Obama said as he sought to reassure NASA workers that America's space adventures would soar on despite the termination of shuttle flights.

Obama acknowledged criticism, even from some prominent astronauts, for his drastic changes to the space program's direction. But, he said, "The bottom line is: Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, the human exploration of space, than I am. But we've got to do it in a smart way; we can't keep doing the same old things as before." He said that by 2025 he expects U.S. space exploration to reach beyond the moon and further into the solar system's reaches.

Within his lifetime, Obama said, America will "send astronauts to Mars and bring them back safely." Obama visited the launch pads where U.S. space voyages begin and said the space program is not a luxury but a necessity for the nation. He said the Kennedy Space Center launched Americans into space and has inspired a nation for half a century. He said NASA represents what it means to be American — "reaching for new heights and reaching for what's possible" — and is not close to its final days.