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Bush Unveils Plan to Return Humans to Moon and on to Mars

At the headquarters of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in front of live images from the International Space Station, the President said, “We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon and prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own.”

President Bush said he would withdraw the United States from the ISS in 2010, after fulfilling the country’s obligation of constructing the orbiting facility, and retire the space shuttle fleet at about the same time.

The announcement comes on the heels of the successful landing of NASA’s Mars rover and almost a year after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated while attempting to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

President Bush said he was “confident” in NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe’s ability to implement the far-reaching plan that would eventually launch the first manned mission to Mars after a series of robotic explorers.

“We need to see and examine and touch for ourselves, and only human beings are capable of adapting to the inevitable uncertainties posed by space flight,” Mr. Bush said.

The moon has one-sixth the gravitational field of Earth, making it a cheaper launching pad for space-bound missions.

President Bush said he would request $1 billion over five years from Congress for NASA’s budget to go toward the program. And he would redirect $11 billion from other NASA programs for the new project.

Probes, landers and other unmanned spacecraft would explore the lunar surface beginning no later than 2008 to prepare for human exploration, according to the Associated Press.

NASA would also develop a “Crew Exploration Vehicle” to transport people to the ISS after the shuttles retire, and then to the moon.

President Bush also said he was forming a new panel, the Commission on the Implementation of U.S. Space Exploration Policy, to advise NASA on the plan. Named to head the panel was Pete Aldridge, a former Air Force secretary and undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

At the start of an election year, the White House cast the program as affordable and useful to average Americans, who may be skeptical about such a mission during times of record budget deficits, by pointing out the scientific advances from past space missions, including CAT scanners, MRIs, kidney dialysis machines and satellite communications, the AP reported.

The last time humans stepped on the moon was in December 1972.

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