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

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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.

In 2004, NASA unveiled its Constellation program that aimed to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 using a new family of rockets, the Ares I and Ares V, as well as new Orion space capsules and moon landers. In 2010, however, the Obama Administration replaced that program with the asteroid-oriented spaceflight goal NASA is currently pursuing.

The current space vision still includes the Orion capsules, but replaces the Ares rockets with a single mega-rocket called the Space Launch System. The first manned flight of the complete Orion-Space Launch System is expected in 2021.

NASA's focus on getting humans to a near-Earth asteroid and Mars makes an American-led manned moon mission unlikely anytime soon, agency chief Charles Bolden reportedly said earlier this month.

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