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Facts, then feet on the moon

Is Obama hesitating to send humans to the moon, and then perhaps to Mars? He shouldn't.

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President Obama isn't exactly howling for an existing government goal to land Americans back on the moon by 2020. Instead, he has set up a 10-member panel of space experts to advise him by September if human exploration beyond Earth's orbit is worth the money from a federal budget mired in red ink.

President Bush laid out plans in 2004 for the United States to build a lunar base that could tap the moon's resources and create a launching pad for a mission to Mars, taking advantage of the moon's weak gravity. Congress has twice endorsed the project.

And other nations, especially China, Japan, and Russia, are also eagerly working on their own moon projects. This cold-war-style competition is one reason the US is trying for a more substantial venture to the moon than the Apollo landings that began 40 years ago this month.

No country has sent a human beyond Earth's low orbit since 1972.

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