U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday set the National Aeronautical and Space Administration on a firm trajectory to a Mars landing when he said: “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.”

In a speech on space exploration in the 21st century, delivered at the John F. Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, Mr. Obama said that by 2025, he expected to see new spacecraft designed for long journeys that would allow the United States to begin “the first-ever crewed missions beyond the Moon into deep space”.

In redefining some aspects of his administration's space exploration policy, Mr. Obama said he would be providing even more funding for NASA projects in return for which he expected them to meet the challenge of the need for “breakthrough propulsion systems and other advanced technologies”

As part of this strategy the White House announced earlier this year — amidst some harsh criticism — that it would be ending parts of the older Constellation programme and instead invest more in newer programmes such as Orion project.

In this context, Mr. Obama said: “It is precisely by investing in groundbreaking research and innovative companies that we will have the potential to rapidly transform our capabilities — even as we build on the important work already completed, through projects like Orion, for future missions.”

“We start by increasing NASA's budget by $6 billion over the next five years… even as we have instituted a freeze on discretionary spending and sought to make cuts elsewhere in the budget.”

Among the space projects financed, $3 billion will be invested to conduct research on an advanced “heavy lift rocket” needed for crew capsules, propulsion systems and large quantities of supplies to reach deep space.

Mr. Obama also stressed the need for further development of the Orion crew capsule and said he had directed NASA administrator Charlie Bolden to “immediately begin developing a rescue vehicle using this technology, so we are not forced to rely on foreign providers if it becomes necessary to quickly bring our people home from the International Space Station.”

The boost to NASA finances would also be used to ramp up robotic exploration of the solar system, including a probe of the Sun's atmosphere; new scouting missions to Mars and other destinations, Mr. Obama added. There would also be focus on developing an advanced telescope to follow Hubble, “allowing us to peer deeper into the universe than ever before”.

Emphasising the job-creating benefits of his new space policy, Mr. Obama said: “Despite some reports to the contrary, my plan will add more than 2,500 jobs along the Space Coast in the next two years compared to the plan under the previous administration.”

In that regard he also sought to downplay fears some had expressed over the plan to utilise the services of private companies: “NASA has always relied on private industry to help design and build the vehicles that carry astronauts to space, from the Mercury capsule that carried John Glenn into orbit nearly 50 years ago, to the space shuttle Discovery currently orbiting overhead.”