July 15 - U.S. President Barack Obama makes a very long-distance telephone call, ringing up astronauts working aboard the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
(ROUGH CUT-NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: U.S. President Barack Obama took a moment away from his focus on the U.S. budget to speak with astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday (July 15). The ISS is currently hosting 10 astronauts, including four from the visiting Atlantis space shuttle, which is on the final mission of NASA's space shuttle program. "I always want to just let everybody know how proud I am of you and the amazing feats you guys are accomplishing in space. I was here in the Oval Office watching you guys take off last Friday. We're all watching as the 10 of you work together as a team to conduct space walks and manage experiments and do all the things that are necessary to keep the space station humming. You example, I think, means so much, not just to your fellow Americans, but also to your fellow citizens on Earth. And the space program has always embodied our sense of adventure and exploration and courage, as you guys work in a very harsh environment. And I know there have been thousands who have poured their hearts and souls into America's space program over the past three decades who are following this journey with special interest. And to them and all the men and women of NASA, I want to say thank you. You helped our country lead the space age, and you continue to inspire us," Obama told the astronauts. The President praised the international cooperation shown aboard the ISS, where astronauts from the United States, Russian and Japan are working together. The United States is preparing to regroup its human spaceflight program. It is retiring its three-ship shuttle fleet upon Atlantis' return on July 21 in order to free up funds to develop new vehicles that can travel beyond the space station, where the shuttles cannot go. Atlantis' crew is halfway through a planned 13-day mission, the final flight in the 30-year-old shuttle program. They are delivering more than 5 tons of cargo to the International Space Station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations that orbits 240 miles (380 km) above Earth. The food, clothes, equipment and supplies aboard Atlantis are intended to tide over the station until NASA's newly hired cargo delivery companies, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences Corp, are ready to begin resupply missions next year. Russia, Europe and Japan also operate freighters. Crew ferry flights will be handled exclusively by Russia, at a cost of more than $50 million per person, until U.S. commercial firms develop that capability as well.