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President Announces Plan for Moon Base, Mars Mission

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January 14, 2004

In a major announcement on Wednesday at NASA headquarters, President Bush announced a proposal that is sure to fire the hearts and minds of space enthusiasts everywhere. The proposal is, in part, a return to more traditional methods of exploring space. Specifically, the president set a goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2015, with the idea to establish a long-term base that would eventually provide a stepping-stone to a manned journey to Mars.

"The experience and knowledge gained on the Moon will serve as a foundation for human missions beyond the moon, beginning with Mars," the statement said.

One advantage of the Moon as a launching pad for space exploration is that the Moonís gravitational field is only one-sixth that of Earth, meaning that it takes much less fuel to get a space vehicle out of orbit.

With the success of the recent Spirit rover, which has landed on Mars and already sent back spectacular pictures of the surface, space enthusiasts are looking more toward renewing interest in having humans explore the Martian surface. The presidentís father, the first President Bush, proposed a manned Mars mission on July 20, 1989, the 20th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. That plan met with little sustained support, mainly because of its high price tag (which many estimated at $400 billion).

The last astronauts to walk on the Moon did so in 1972. None of the lunar missions left much more than an American flag. The presidentís plan is expected to propose a permanent station as a steppingstone toward a Martian mission.

In order to raise some money for the new plan, the president proposed $1 billion in new spending during the next five years and shifting an additional $11 billion from other NASA programs to the Moon base program. White House officials also expressed hope that other countries would take part, including by offering funding.

The presidentís proposal also calls for withdrawing from the International Space Station by 2010 and retiring the space shuttle fleet about the same time. Instead, a Crew Exploration Vehicle would take astronauts to the space station and then to the Moon.

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