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New push for return to the moon

While US space scientists try to revive planetary exploration, some of them also eye the moon. At the 14 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March, researchers made a strong plea to include moon studies in the new planning.

Actually, the program proposed by NASA's Solar System Exploration Committee does include a moon-orbiting spacecraft. It would map surface composition and look for signs of water.

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But moon enthusiasts have a larger vision of what they called a ''giant foothold for mankind.'' This includes both unmanned landers and human habitation.

W.W. Mendel, a member of the Earth and planetary science group at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said the scientists' purpose was ''to make the Office of Space Flight more aware of lunar exploration so they would consider it in planning.''

NASA associate administrator Hans Mark gave noncommittal encouragement, saying, ''I will do whatever I can to speed the day when people will once again put human footprints on the moon.''

But Philip Chandler of the congressional Office of Technology Assessment brought the conference back to Earth by noting that the US public would be unlikely to support any more expensive moon ventures.

If Americans are to return to the moon, he said, the public would demand an economic return on its investment.

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