Sunday, August 16, 2009

Moon, Mars out of reach: US panel

Cape Canaveral (USA): The US plan to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 will not happen without a big boost in Nasa's budget, leaving only the International Space Station as a viable target for the country's human space program, according to a presidential review panel.


The Human Space Flight Plans committee, which presented its preliminary findings to the White House on Friday, concluded that a human mission to Mars currently would be too risky.

Developing new spaceships to replace the retiring space shuttle fleet and bigger rockets to reach the moon would require about $3 billion more per year, the panel headed by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine said.

The only human space program affordable under Nasa's existing budget is an enhanced space station, one that has a side benefit of seeding a commercial passenger-launch services market, said the panel, which completed a series of public meetings this week.

Nasa spends about half of its $18 billion annual budget on human space flight to fly the space shuttles, build and operate the space station and develop new vehicles in a follow-on program called Constellation.

The committee said the new U.S. exploration initiative - aimed at landing astronauts on the moon by 2020 - is doomed because its 10-year, $108 billion budget has been shaved by about $30 billion.

"We can't do this program in this budget," said panel member Sally Ride, a former astronaut. "This budget is simply not friendly to exploration."

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