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US still committed to space exploration: Obama

WASHINGTON (AFP): US President Barack Obama told astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) that he was deeply committed to space exploration, after scrapping plans to return Americans to the moon.

Obama on Wednesday told the US, Russian and Japanese ISS astronauts and comrades who travelled to the station on the shuttle Endeavour that he was proud of them and the work they were doing in space.

He also said he was "committed" to human space exploration in the future, in a television link-up to the astronauts, and a question-and-answer session with high school children at the White House.

"My commitment to NASA is unwavering," Obama said during the conversation from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

Seeking to cut the massive US budget deficit, Obama's administration has proposed scrapping the costly and over budget Constellation rocket program designed to return Americans to the moon by 2020.

The plan, opposed by some prominent lawmakers, would see NASA concentrate on research and development that could over a longer time-frame eventually see astronauts travel outside low Earth orbit and even aim for Mars.

NASA would be encouraged to develop operations with commercial partners to fly astronauts to the ISS low Earth orbit.

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