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NASA's big decision: Build a moon base or lasso an asteroid?

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But some lawmakers contend that the moon should still be NASA's immediate human spaceflight target. They have reintroduced a 2011 bill called the RE-asserting American Leadership in Space Act (or REAL Space Act for short), which asks NASA to send astronauts to the moon by 2022 with the goal of establishing a long-term settlement there.

"The moon is our nearest celestial body, taking only a matter of days to reach," Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) said in a statement Wednesday. "In order to explore deeper into space — to Mars and beyond — a moon presence offers us the ability to develop and test technologies to cope with the realities of operating on an extraterrestrial surface."

The bill would also give NASA's manned spaceflight efforts more direction, its sponsors say.

"This legislation is not just about landing another human on the moon. It is about restoring our nation’s now-defunct human spaceflight program and setting clear and achievable goals that will lead to advancements in science and technology," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). "This legislation restores and clarifies NASA’s role in human spaceflight and sets the US back on course to lead exploration of the cosmos."

Astronauts have not walked on the surface of the moon since NASA's Apollo 17 mission in 1972, which marked the final lunar landing mission of the Apollo program.

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