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NASA Launch Begins Effort to Return Man to the Moon

NASA launched two satellites to the moon last week, the first step toward its goal of returning a human to the lunar surface. At the start of this new effort, though, a debate has been ignited at the space agency over how best to do so. Tom Bearden reports.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Next tonight, the future of the American manned spaceflight program. NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden has our Science Unit report.

  • RADIO OPERATOR:

    And lift off, America's first step of a lasting return to the moon.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    The launch of two satellites bound for the moon yesterday marked the beginning of NASA's new plan for human spaceflight. The spacecraft will look for potential landing sites, measure radiation, and search for water.

    And NASA is moving ahead on a new launch vehicle for astronauts, a prototype of which is now being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. All of this comes as NASA stands at a major crossroads.

    NASA has been assembling spacecraft in this building for more than 40 years, and they plan to continue to do so with a program designed to return astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars. Exactly how they will do that, and whether they will do it at all, is now under review in Washington.

    NORMAN AUGUSTINE, chair, Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Committee: We're not the first to look at the human spaceflight program by a long shot.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    It started this week, when former Lockheed Martin Chairman Norman Augustine opened the first of a series of public hearings as part of a presidential review of NASA's plans.

  • NORMAN AUGUSTINE:

    I think this is going to be a very tough job, because people really care about space. It's something that people get emotionally attached to. And people have different opinions, and they hold them strongly, and we're getting a lot of advice, which we welcome. Unfortunately, most of it's conflicting and contradictory. So wish us well; we'll need some good luck here.

  • TOM BEARDEN:

    It was four years ago that President Bush set out a vision for NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 and establish a base there in preparation for going to Mars.

    But the space shuttle fleet, which has been taking astronauts into orbit since 1981, is scheduled to retire next year. The new vehicles won't be ready until 2015 at the earliest.

    That worries Senator Bill Nelson, a former space shuttle astronaut. He says America will have to buy seats on Russian spacecraft to be able to use the recently completed $100 billion International Space Station that the U.S. largely built and paid for.

  • SEN. BILL NELSON, D-Fla.:

    It's my hope that our foreign relations with the Russians are going to get better, but who knows what the geopolitics is going to be later on in this coming decade?

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