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With Moon Mission, US Seeks To Remain Leader In Space

Click here for larger view of flight plan. Credit: NASA
by Jean-Louis Santini
Washington (AFP) Sep 20, 2005
Plans by the United States to return to manned space exploration, with the Moon as the first step in 2018, reflect a desire to maintain US leadership in the scientific world and, some day, to set foot on other planets in the solar system.

The US space agency on Monday unveiled a 104 billion-dollar project to send astronauts to the moon by 2018 with a design inspired by the Apollo program of the 1960s, which put the first men on the lunar surface.

The administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Michael Griffin, recently set out the philosophical and political motivation for renewed US ambitions in space.

"What the US gains from a robust program of human space exploration is the opportunity to carry the principles and values of western philosophy and culture along on the absolutely inevitable outward migration of humanity into the solar system and, eventually, beyond. These benefits are tangible and consequential," Griffin said in August.

"It's our nation's privilege and obligation to lead yet another opportunity to explore places beyond our own, and to help shape the destiny of our world for centuries to come."

The decision to relaunch a program of manned space flights to the Moon and later to Mars, announced by President George W. Bush in January 2004, coincides with a shortage of homegrown engineers and scientists in the United States, said David Akin, director of the Space System Laboratory at the University of Maryland.

In 2004, US universities graduated only 30,000 engineers, compared to 60,000 in Europe and some 500,000 in China and a similar number in India, Akin said.

In the 1960s, a large number of US students studied math, science and technical fields but now universities mainly graduate lawyers and businessmen. The renewed space program might produce an impetus in the US to train more engineers and scientists, he said.

For Akin, who has worked on the Space Shuttle program, space exploration is a worthy endeavor not to generate economic growth or enhance national prestige but to "overcome the limitations of being bound to one planet".

"I think there is a philosophical reason...The resources on earth won't last forever," Akin told AFP in an interview.

"It's not science fiction. The fact is that the world will exist in 100 years, 300 years and one thousand years from now...This makes good sense."

NASA's plans met with mixed reviews this week, with Mars enthusiasts saying the agency should scrap the shuttle program and move promptly to start preparing the heavy-lift vehicle needed for manned missions. Some representatives in Congress have questioned whether sufficient funding will be available to enable NASA to realize its vision.

In the short term, the current shuttle program carries a sense of "ennui" for an American space community that has grown tired of sending missions in a lower orbit, according to Akin.

The time has come for new ideas and objectives beyond the International Space Station (ISS), he said.

"I think there is a strong desire to provide new forward looking goals not only the ISS."

All rights reserved. � 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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Digging "Moon Dirt" Is NASA's Fifth Centennial Challenge
Washington DC (SPX) Sep 21, 2005
NASA announced Tuesday the Regolith Excavation Challenge, a new Centennial Challenges prize competition that will award $250,000 to the winning team and has the potential to significantly contribute to the nation's space exploration goals.

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