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Bush space plan faces opposition

A NASA representation of a lunar station
A NASA representation of a lunar station

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U.S. President Bush unveils the multi-billion dollar space initiative.
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CNN's Miles O'Brien on NASA plans to ask for an incremental budget increase.
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President Bush's space proposal includes a permanent presence on the moon.
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•Spend $12 billion on new space exploration plan over next five years. $1bn will be new money, the rest reallocated from existing NASA programs.
•Retire shuttle program by 2010
•Develop new manned exploration vehicle
•Launch manned mission to moon between 2015 and 2020
•Build permanent lunar base as "stepping stone" for more ambitious missions
•Complete commitments to  International Space Station by 2010
Source: White House 
Is a manned mission to Mars worth the risk and cost?
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Bill Nelson
Sean O'Keefe

(CNN) -- President Bush's plan to send astronauts to the moon and then to Mars has been met with skepticism from some lawmakers, academics and even the public.

A new Associated Press poll finds that more than half of respondents would prefer to spend the money on domestic programs rather than on space research.

Bush asked Congress on Wednesday to increase funding for NASA by nearly $1 billion over five years and to redirect $11 billion from other space agency programs toward the new effort during the same period.

The amounts represent seed funding for a new class of rockets and spacecraft that would carry humans on exploratory journeys in space. (Full story)

There is congressional concern that the lofty goals in the Bush initiative may far exceed the proposed budget.

"The first year after [President John] Kennedy announced the Apollo program, the NASA budget was doubled," said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, the only current member of Congress who has flown in space.

"And in the second year it was doubled again. That's not realistic today. But 5 percent a year increases are not going to get us to the moon."

The United States spent about $24 billion to put men on the moon in the 1960s.

As a leading congressional expert on NASA, Nelson underwent intensive training and flew as a crew member on the 24th flight of the space shuttle in 1986.

Alex Roland, a history professor at Duke University and former NASA historian, is among those who say the mission will provide little useful information in exchange for the massive expenditure.

"We can't afford it. It's going to cost much more than this 5 percent increment in the NASA budget that they're talking about," Roland said.

He argues the same missions could be done for less with robots such as the Spirit rover, which recently landed on Mars.

"Anything we want to do in space, we can do now more effectively, more efficiently and surely more safely with automated spacecraft," he said. "There's no reason to be sending people to either the moon or Mars."

Stephen Moore, president of the conservative Club for Growth, agrees the program would be a waste of tax dollars, especially in light of the nation's current fiscal state.

"When you look at our budget situation today, this is just a fiscal calamity," Moore said. "We're looking at, for the next five years, half a trillion dollars of budget deficits."

Moore suggested Bush's proposed program could cost $500 billion over 25 years. He said the program was introduced at a bad time, particularly because the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism still require the nation's attention and money.

The public appears split on support for expanded human missions in space.

Asked whether they favored the United States expanding the space program the way Bush proposes, 48 percent of those in responding to the AP poll backed the idea.

The same number opposed it, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs. (Full story)

Most respondents in the AP-Ipsos poll said they generally support continuing to send humans into space.

But given the choice of spending money on education and health care programs or on space research, 55 percent said they wanted domestic programs.

The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults was taken Friday through Sunday and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Sean O'Keefe, NASA administrator, said there would be continued constraints on spending and that the cost would be relatively low.

"We are talking about every taxpayer contributes, on average, about 15 cents a day. The price of a monthly cable television bill is what's being contributed by the average taxpayer," he said.

"Less than 1 per cent of the federal budget goes toward this, and that's not going to change."

Roland is skeptical. "It is much more expensive than they are letting on," he said.

"Additionally, the United States already spends more in space than the rest of the world combined. We're doing quite well without a dramatic increase in this budget."

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