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To the moon, NASA? Not on this budget, experts say

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Concept of a future moon landing. Image Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (PTI): NASA will test the powerful first stage of its new Ares moon rocket on Thursday, a milestone in a program that already has spent USD 7 billion for a rocket that astronauts may never use.

When that first stage is tested, it will be mounted horizontally. The engine will fire, shake and make a lot of noise. But by design, it will not leave the ground. The same could be said for NASA's plans to go to the moon, Mars or beyond Earth orbit. It's not so much a physical challenge for engineers as it is a financial challenge for budgeteers.

The USD 108 billion program to return to the moon by 2020 was started five years ago by then-President George W Bush.

But a special independent panel commissioned by President Barack Obama concluded that the plan cannot work on the existing budget schedule because it probably will cost at least an extra USD 30 billion through 2020.

Even NASA's soon-to-be-retired space shuttle fleet has proved that getting off the ground is not a given, with two launch scrubs this week of a mission to the international space station.

The space station finally is finished. Yet NASA's long-standing plans call for junking the outpost in about seven years. If the agency keeps that schedule, it would mean that in the next decade NASA's astronauts could be going nowhere if there is no moon mission.

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