U.S. President Barack Obama pledged on Monday to keep science and technology funding strong following the success of NASA's Curiosity rover landing on Mars.
Obama made the commitment in a phone call to the Curiosity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"This is the kind of thing that inspires kids across the country," President Obama said in the call, which was televised by NASA. "They're telling their moms and dads that they want to be part of a Mars mission. Maybe even the first person to walk on Mars. And that kind of inspiration is the by-product of the sort of work you have done."
Curiosity's landing on Mars momentarily drew the world's attention away from the Olympic Games with a live broadcast attracting millions of viewers. Ustream, which carries NASA's TV programming live, reported 3.2 million views of the livestream online, and recordings of the landing have drawn many millions more views on sites across the web.
"We can't wait to start hearing back from Curiosity and finding out what's going on. We're fortunate to be part of a society that can reach beyond our planet and explore frontiers that were only imagined by our ancestors. It's inspiring to all of us. I'm going to give you guys a personal commitment to protect these critical investments in science and technology," the President said.
NASA has been hit with budget cuts over the last few years. Shortly following Curiosity's landing last week, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden emphasized that the Curiosity mission had been achieved for roughly $7 per U.S. citizen, a total price of $2.5 billion.
After the success of the landing, which involved a new technique in which a jet-powered craft lowered the lander onto the surface of the planet on cables to ensure a smooth touchdown, NASA spent the week checking Curiosity's systems and getting some initial photographs from the Martian surface.
Over the weekend, NASA engineers began updating the rover's software system to a version more suited for exploration than navigation and landing.
"If in fact you do make contacts, please let me know right away," Obama said with a laugh. "I've got a lot of other things on my plate but I suspect that will go to the top of the list."
Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org