WASHINGTON -- President Bush beckoned the nation "forward into the universe" on Wednesday, outlining a costly new effort to return Americans to the moon as early as 2015 and use it as a waystation to Mars and beyond.
Bush said he envisioned "a new foothold on the moon...and new journeys to the world beyond our own," underscoring a renewed commitment to manned spaceflight less than a year after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and a crew of seven.
In a speech delivered at NASA headquarters a few blocks from the White House, Bush unveiled a plan to withdraw the United States from the International Space Station by 2010 and retire the aging space shuttle fleet at about the same time. In its place, he called for development of a new Crew Exploratory Vehicle, capable of carrying astronauts to the space station and the moon.
Bush said early financing would total $12 billion for exploration over the next five years, only $1 billion of it in new funds. That meant that even if he wins a second term in office, his successors in the Oval Office would be responsible for finding the rest of the money for a program likely to run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.
The space agency arranged a splashy, high-tech entrance for the president, who strode to the front of a giant video screen beaming an image of Michael Foale, aboard the space station 240 miles above the earth.
"I know that I'm just one chapter in an ongoing story of discovery," said Foale, making his sixth trip into earth orbit. He said he was also "certain that NASA's journey is just beginning..."
Bush said the same, delivering a vote of confidence in Sean O'Keefe, the agency's administrator at the time of the Columbia breakup and the months since.
"It's time for America to take the next step" in space exploration, said Bush, who spoke 32 years after the American Apollo program last landed astronauts on the moon. He drew applause from NASA employees when he outlined a timetable that would put the first human trip to Mars well into the century. Robotic craft would be sent there first, he said, but exploration wouldn't end there.
"We need to see and examine and touch for ourselves, and only human beings are capable of adapting to the inevitable uncertainties posed by space flight," the president said.
"Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once drawn to unknown lands and across the open sea," Bush said "We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit. So let us continue the journey."
The nation's manned space program drew its first impetus from Cold War competition with the former Soviet Union, and began with a challenge from President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
Bush made no mention of Kennedy, but his remarks underscored the change in global politics. "The vision I outline today is a journey, not a race," he said.
Some questions and answers about President Bush's plan to send astronauts to the moon and later to Mars.
Q: What is the president proposing?
A: To send astronauts back to the moon and establish an "extended presence" there. Later in this century, astronauts would be sent on to Mars.
Q: How much will this cost?
A: The president is proposing to add $1 billion to NASA's budget over the next five years and to redirect funds now in the space agency budget toward the moon-Mars plan. But that will be just the startup funds for an effort that will take decades and hundreds of billions of dollars to complete.
Q: What is planned for the moon?
A: The plan calls for exploration of the lunar surface by robot craft by 2008 and the landing of astronauts there as early as 2015 "with the goal of living and working there for increasingly extended periods."
Q: How will astronauts get to the moon?
A: The president is calling for development of a new spacecraft, to be called the Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will be able to fly to the moon. The first manned launch of the new craft would be no later than 2014. The craft could also be used to ferry people between Earth and the International Space Station.
Q: When will astronauts go to the moon?
A: As early as 2015 and no later than 2020.
Q: What will astronauts do on the moon?
A: Mine resources from the lunar soil, including perhaps rocket fuel from helium-3 and from suspected water deposits. Astronauts could use the moon to develop skills and technologies for use on other missions, such as to Mars. The moon, which has gravity one-sixth that of Earth, could also be used as an assembly stage and launch site for a Mars expedition.
Q: What happens to the space shuttle?
A: Flaws detected in the shuttle after the Columbia accident last year will be corrected and the winged craft will then be used to complete construction of the International Space Station. The shuttle will be retired by the end of this decade.
Q: What happens to the International Space Station?
A: Construction of the station with the space shuttle will be completed by 2010, fulfilling the U.S. commitment to the 15 partner nations. U.S. research on the orbiting laboratory will then focus on the effects of long-term space flight on the human body.
Q: When will astronauts go to Mars?
A: No firm date has been announced, but some administration officials suggested it would be after 2030.
Q: How will astronauts get to Mars?
A: The president's plan does not mention any plans for a spacecraft capable of going to Mars and landing there. Presumably, another craft would have to be designed, built and tested before a Mars expedition could be mounted.
Q: What other technology will be needed?
A: Experts suggest that extended expeditions to the moon and Mars will need some form of atom electrical power. Such systems are now being developed by NASA. The agency is also working on an electric-ion rocket engine that could accelerate the months-long journey between the Earth and Mars. For an extended stay on the moon and Mars, NASA will also need to develop shelters that could be transported, landed and installed. Extended stays also may require a system to protect astronauts from exposure to cosmic and solar radiation.