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Last updated at 13:50 BST, Wednesday, 09 September 2009

Future of US space travel uncertain

Summary

9 September 2009

A White House panel of independent space experts has raised serious doubts about NASA's plan to revisit the Moon, or to send astronauts to Mars. It says the current annual budget of $18 bn is simply not enough to fund exploration beyond the Earth.

Reporter:
Jonathan Beale

An artist rendition of the Orion crew exploration vehicle approaching the International Space Station

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Report

Five years ago President Bush set out his lofty vision of sending astronauts back to the Moon by the year 2020. It was meant to be the staging post for the next frontier - a manned landing on Mars. Now a panel of space experts says that's pretty much pie in the sky.

Their report, commissioned by President Obama, says the current US human spaceflight programme appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It suggests the only way forward is to increase the funding of NASA by billions of dollars, or to co-operate with private companies now embarking on commercial space flights.

The panel says visits to Near-Earth Objects such as asteroids are far more realistic too. The experts also argue for keeping the International Space Station going till 2020, rather than pulling the plug in six years' time.

Jonathan Beale, BBC News, Washington

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Vocabulary

set out

displayed or showed plans for

lofty vision

an ambitious plan

staging post

a place where stops are made on long journeys (here, the Moon before travelling on to Mars)

next frontier

a part of space which has not been previously explored

a panel

a team of people (usually professionals or experts) who make decisions

pie in the sky

an expression meaning that something which you hope will happen is, in fact, very unlikely

on an unsustainable trajectory

on a path or following a plan which cannot be continued or completed

embarking

starting on something new

asteroids

one of many rocky objects of various sizes which circle the sun

pulling the plug

prevent from continuing

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