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US still has space ambitions, says NASA chief

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WASHINGTON (AFP): Scrapping plans to return to the moon does not mean the US is abandoning its space ambitions, NASA's chief has insisted as lawmakers and others respond angrily to the move.

"We must invest in fundamentally new innovations for space technology and new ways of doing business if we are to develop a space exploration and development program that is truly sustainable over the long term," NASA administrator Charles Bolden told reporters on Wednesday.

On Monday, President Barack Obama proposed dropping the massively over-budget Constellation program launched by his predecessor, George W Bush, to develop a rocket aimed at returning Americans to the moon by 2020.

The White House said it wanted to ground Constellation because it was too costly, used outdated technology and would not be ready to ferry humans to the moon before 2028.

In its place, "a bold and ambitious new space initiative that invests in American ingenuity to propel us on a new journey of innovation and discovery" was being launched, it said.

As part of his 2011 budget blueprint, the president called for spending USD six billion over five years for NASA to develop commercial spacecraft that could carry astronauts into low Earth orbit.

That was a far smaller increase than the three billion a year a presidentially-appointed panel has said would be necessary for a viable human flight programme.

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