At a gathering at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., today, President George W. Bush unveiled his plan to return humans to the moon and then send them on to Mars.
Bush called for NASA to retire the space shuttle by 2010 after completion of the international space station, in preparation for launch of a new Crew Exploration Vehicle by 2014. The new launcher would be the keystone for returning to the moon, sometime between 2015 and 2020. Humans would build a lunar base and stay there for increasingly extended periods of time. "Human beings are headed into the cosmos," he told applauding NASA officials and members of Congress. He did not name a date for a human Mars mission.
Meanwhile, work on the space station will be redirected to prepare for extended human stays in space. Research would focus on understanding the deleterious effects of microgravity on the human body, such as bone loss, and the impact of radiation outside the protection of Earth's atmosphere.
To pay for the new programs, Bush intends to ask Congress for a roughly $1 billion boost to NASA in 2005, followed by annual 5% increases for several years. Retiring the shuttle would free up more funds for exploration efforts at the turn of the decade. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, in a press conference later, appeared exultant if tired. "This afternoon we got a mandate," he said.
A commission led by Pete Aldridge, an aerospace executive and former NASA and Pentagon official, will hammer out details of the exploration plan within 4 months of their first meeting, according to Bush.