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NASA Presents Hundred Billion Dollar Plan to Return to Moon

By Warren E. Leary
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

Combining an old concept, existing equipment and new ideas, NASA gave shape on Monday to President Bush’s promise to send humans back to the moon by the end of the next decade.

Michael D. Griffin, the agency’s administrator, spelled out a $104 billion plan that he said would get to the moon by 2018, serve as a steppingstone to Mars and beyond, and stay within NASA’s existing budget.

It would use a new spacecraft similar to the Apollo command capsule of the original moon program, and new rockets largely made up of components from the space shuttle program.

“It is very Apollo-like,” Griffin said, “but bigger. Think of it as Apollo on steroids.”

The basic outlines of the plan had been disclosed informally over the past two months by NASA officials and space experts. Griffin’s announcement laid out a timetable and a budget, putting flesh on the bones of a proposal Bush had announced in January 2004 but never described in detail.

The plan drew a mixture of praise and criticism from lawmakers and space experts. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., who is chairman of the House Science Committee, said it appeared to be “the safest, least expensive and most efficient way” of moving forward in space exploration, but added that current budget shortfalls might make it hard to develop the new vehicle on schedule.

Griffin said that after adjusting for inflation, the program would cost just 55 percent of what it did to put a dozen men on the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972.

The pay-as-you-go plan, approved by the White House last week, would stay within NASA’s $16-billion-a-year budget through a combination of retiring the space shuttle, finishing the International Space Station and reallocating money from other NASA programs. And Griffin said the nation could well afford it, despite concern about tight budgets in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“We’re talking about returning to the moon in 2018,” he told a news conference here.