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Science & Space

Former astronaut Glenn criticizes Bush space plan

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, left, sits with former astronaut and retired Sen. John Glenn during a rally at the University of Toledo Wednesday. Glenn endorsed Kerry in his bid for the presidency.
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, left, sits with former astronaut and retired Sen. John Glenn during a rally at the University of Toledo Wednesday. Glenn endorsed Kerry in his bid for the presidency.

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) -- U.S. space pioneer John Glenn said on Thursday that President George W. Bush's space exploration plan "pulls the rug out from under our scientists" and might waste too much money to ever put astronauts on Mars.

Glenn, a retired Democratic senator from Ohio and the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth, said NASA should not abandon research on the International Space Station and questioned the advisability of using the moon as a stepping stone to Mars.

His stinging rebuke of the Bush plan came in testimony before the presidential commission charged with developing a strategy for building a permanent base on the moon, then sending astronauts on to Mars. The commission met at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Glenn's home state of Ohio.

The octogenarian space pioneer's most cutting comments were reserved for NASA's plans to gut the International Space Station of a once-ambitious research agenda, limiting science only to studies applicable to the moon and Mars program.

"We have projects that are planned or in the queue now, projects that people -- academics and laboratories and companies -- have spent millions of dollars to get ready," Glenn said. "That pulls the rug out from under our scientists who placed their faith in NASA, and our scientists within NASA who devoted years and years to their work."

Glenn said basic research had always been part of the human space flight program, dating back to his own three-orbit flight in 1962: "We tried to get everything we could on to every flight back in those days."

He said cutting the research component of the space station program would save only about $2.5 million.

"I think we're voluntarily stopping some of the most unique, cutting-edge research in the history of the whole world. Now we're going to let other nations do it and they'll be able to benefit from it. I just don't think that's right. I think that's a mistake. For a few bucks, we could continue this research," he said.

NASA spokesman Glen Mahone said research aboard the space station will continue but will be limited to the effects of space flight on human physiology.

"We're going to do the research that's important for us to fulfill the president's vision," Mahone said.

Glenn said he would support returning to the moon for research purposes, but urged the panel to seriously consider whether building habitable moon bases as a stepping stone to Mars was cost effective.

"In effect you're making a Cape Canaveral out on the moon. It would be a smaller one, I'm sure, but it would be enormously complex," Glenn said. "It just seems to me the direct-to-Mars [route] is the way to go."

He warned NASA might "use up all our money on the moon and never get to Mars."

One commission member, Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, called Glenn's testimony "refreshing in its candor."



Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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