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Put humans on moon, Mars, Bush to propose next week

To reinvigorate the space program, the president wants to establish a permanent base on the moon and eventually touch foot on the Red Planet.

By Associated Press
Published January 9, 2004

WASHINGTON - President Bush will announce plans next week to send Americans to Mars and establish a permanent human presence on the moon, senior administration officials said Thursday night.

Bush won't propose sending Americans to Mars anytime soon; rather, he envisions preparing for the mission more than a decade from now, one official said.

In addition to proposing the first trip to the moon since December 1972, the president wants to build a permanent space station there.

Three senior officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bush wants to aggressively reinvigorate the space program, which has been demoralized by a series of setbacks, including February's space shuttle disaster that killed seven astronauts.

Bush has been expected to propose a bold new space mission in an effort to rally Americans around a unifying theme as he campaigns for re-election.

Many insiders had speculated he might set forth goals at the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' famed flight last month in North Carolina. Instead, he said only that America would continue to lead the world in aviation.

It was the Columbia tragedy that helped force a discussion of where NASA should venture beyond the space shuttle and international space station. The panel that investigated the Columbia accident called for a clearly defined long-term mission - a national vision for space that has gone missing for three decades.

House Science Committee spokeswoman Heidi Tringe said lawmakers on the panel "haven't been briefed on the specifics" of the plan but expected an announcement.

Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Texas, a member of the House Science Committee, said he welcomed the move because he has tried to get the president more interested in space exploration.

"I had the feeling the last 21/2 years people would rather make a trip to the grocery store than a trip to the moon because of the economy," Hall said. "As things are turning around, we need to stay in touch with space" and the science spinoffs it provides.

On Saturday, NASA landed a six-wheeled robot, Spirit, on Mars to study the planet. A second rover, Opportunity, should land on Jan. 24.

Asked Wednesday whether the success of the Mars rovers could lead to a human mission to Mars, NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe said, "The rovers are a precursor mission - kind of an advance team - to figuring out what the conditions are on the planet, and once we figure out how to deal with the human effects, we can then send humans to explore in real time."

While answering questions on the White House Web site, O'Keefe said interplanetary exploration depends on "what we learn and whether we can develop the power and . . . propulsion capabilities necessary to get there faster and stay longer and potentially support humans in doing so."

On the 20th anniversary of the first manned moon landing in 1989, Bush's father, President George Bush, called for lunar colonies and a Mars expedition: "I'm not proposing a 10-year plan like Apollo; I'm proposing a long-range, continuing commitment. . . . For the new century: back to the moon; back to the future. And this time, back to stay. And then a journey into tomorrow, a journey to another planet: a manned mission to Mars."

The prohibitively expensive plan went nowhere.

No one, least of all members of Congress, knows how NASA would pay for lunar camps or Mars expeditions. When the first President Bush proposed such a project, the estimated price tag was $400-billion to $500-billion.

The moon is just three days away while Mars is at least six months away, and the lunar surface therefore could be a safe place to shake out Martian equipment. Observatories also could be built on the moon, and mining camps could be set up to gather helium-3 for conversion into fuel for use back on Earth.

The United States put 12 men on the moon between July 1969 and December 1972.

Former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, has said that before deciding to race off to the moon or Mars, the nation needs to complete the international space station and provide the taxi service to accommodate a full crew of six or seven. The station houses two.

At the same time, Glenn has said, NASA could be laying out a long-term plan, setting a loose timetable and investing in the engineering challenges of sending people to Mars.

[Last modified January 9, 2004, 01:46:07]

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