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Thu, Jan 15, 2004

Space: Bush's Final Frontier

Ambitious Plan to Visit Moon And Mars Unveiled

After weeks of speculation, President Bush officially unveiled his new and rather ambitious space initiative on Wednesday. Reminiscent of John F. Kennedy's famous space-launching speech, Bush outlined his administration's goals to send human beings back to the Moon and eventually set foot on Mars.

The President called on Congress to increase funding for NASA by nearly a billion dollars annually over the next five years, while radically transforming the space agency's manned space flight goals from research-based low Earth program to a new aggressive plan for interplanetary travel. The nine-page executive policy directive was unveiled Wednesday afternoon by the president during an address at NASA headquarters in Washington.

NASA's new master plan is broken down in three phases.

  1. Retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet by 2010.
  2. Begin manned missions to the Moon in by 2020.
  3. Launch the first Mars manned mission by early 2030.

Specifically, the current Space Shuttle fleet would be retired in 2010 after it completes construction of the International Space Station (ISS). The new space plan would have robots visiting the moon by 2008 and humans walking on its surface by 2020. The Moon missions would explore colonization and other projects that will eventually support the most ambitious goal of all: the first manned mission to Mars in 2030.

NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe expressed excitement about the new direction the space agency would take, but warned that many steps are needed before ever launching a manned mission to the Moon. For starters, a new space vehicle -- capable of flying out of a low-Earth orbit -- would need to be constructed. Designated the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the new craft would be designed for a very specific mission and would not resemble the thirty-plus year old shuttles. "It would look totally different than the Space Shuttle", he explained.

NASA officials explained the current Space Shuttle fleet is limited to low Earth orbit -- no higher than about 300 miles above the surface -- and can stay in space for slightly longer than two weeks. Like the Apollo spacecraft, the new space vehicle would be specifically designed to revisit our own natural satellite, the Moon.

Not wanting to minimize the efforts of the ISS program, President Bush emphasized the US would continue its work alongside a host of other nations who have invested in its development.

The Bush plan calls for NASA to fulfill its obligation to 15 other partner nations to complete the ISS in the next five to six years.

"The United States remains committed to the International Space Station," Bush reassured the gathering of space officials and media representatives.

On a related space note, the Spirit rover, which recently landed on Mars, is beginning to venture onto the Martian landscape. Its emergence from the landing platform was delayed for a few days, as NASA engineers worked on moving one of the protective airbags that blocked its path.  



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