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Space Initiative: Background

January 14, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: President Bush went to NASA headquarters today to outline his plans for astronauts to go to the moon and beyond.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’ll build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon, and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own.

RAY SUAREZ: The president laid out several goals, including finishing the assembly of the International Space Station by 2010, with the help of the current space shuttle program. NASA would also retire the aging shuttle fleet in favor a new spaceship, called the Crew Exploratory Vehicle.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Beginning no later than 2008, we will send a series of robotic missions to the lunar surface to research and prepare for future human exploration. Using the Crew Exploration Vehicle, we will undertake extended human missions to the moon as early as 2015, with the goal of living and working there for increasingly extended periods of time. Returning to the moon is an important step for our space program.

Establishing an extended human presence on the moon could vastly reduce the cost of further space exploration, making possible ever more ambitious missions. Lifting heavy spacecraft and fuel out of the Earth’s gravity is expensive. Spacecraft assembled and provisioned on the moon could escape its far lower gravity using far less energy, and thus far less cost.

With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: Human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond.

RAY SUAREZ: The first president to propose a manned lunar mission was John F. Kennedy, in 1961.

NEIL ARMSTRONG, Astronaut: That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

RAY SUAREZ: Eight years later, two Americans walked on the moon’s surface. But in the 35 years since, NASA’s space exploration has consisted of mostly unmanned missions. The Mars rover, which successfully landed on Jan. 3, is the latest.

The agency’s space shuttle program sent astronauts into space, often to the International Space Station. But the shuttle program was grounded last year after the crash of the Columbia. That accident, and the Challenger explosion in 1986, killed 14 astronauts, and hurt morale at the space agency.

And many of NASA’s programs have been plagued by cost overruns, especially NASA’s participation in the International Space Station. Today, President Bush said he would ask Congress to increase NASA’s budget by $1 billion over the next five years.