WASHINGTON — President Obama said Wednesday that NASA was an agency afflicted by "a sense of drift" and that it needed a "mission that is appropriate for the 21st century."
During an interview, Obama said the first priority of a new agency administrator -- whom he promised to appoint soon -- would be "to think through what NASA's core mission is and what the next great adventures and discoveries are under the NASA banner."
Until that happens, he said, the White House would delay any major policy decisions about the agency.
That probably would ensure the retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 -- as Obama called for in the budget proposal he gave Congress -- and pave the way for massive job losses at Florida's Kennedy Space Center and surrounding areas.
Once the shuttle is retired, NASA will depend on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for access to the International Space Station.
The president's remarks came as NASA decided to scrub the scheduled Wednesday night launch of the shuttle Discovery, citing a hydrogen leak. The launch, repeatedly delayed because of concerns about valves in its fuel system, has been rescheduled for Sunday evening.