US Plans to Put People on Moon Again by 2019

The head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration says the United States plans to put humans on the moon again by 2019. At the same time, he said he is concerned by what he described as a "significant" gap in U.S. human space flight following the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle program in 2010. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

NASA administrator Michael Griffin said his agency has budgeted for plans to send U.S. astronauts back to the moon 50 years after the first successful lunar landing in 1969.

"Our plan right now is people back on the moon in 2019," said Michael Griffin.

Griffin acknowledged that the date is far in the future, but said his agency has many other commitments to complete first. Among these is winding up the space shuttle program by 2010 and having replacement vehicles ready in a timely manner.

"The development is just beginning, and we certainly have not had any problems, but we do not have as much money available as we thought we would, and so that development now has slipped out until probably 2015, unless something changes, for us to deploy those new vehicles," he said. "And that now will end up being a 4.5 -year gap. It is of concern."

NASA's current budget is $16.8 billion. Its proposed budget for the 2008 fiscal year is $17.3 billion.

The NASA administrator said it is important for the United States to continue pursuing space travel and exploration.

"The posture of the United States in the world, as a nation among nations, our standing if you will, is in part influenced by the view of others as to whether or not we are on the leading edge of important human activities," said Michael Griffin. "And the space frontier is a frontier."

He added that the number of countries that have gone into space now includes China, and possibly, in the future, India, Japan and Europe.

"So, unlike in the 1960's, when the space race of that time was the United States and Russia, today we are in a world where three, and soon four or more nations or alliances will have the capability to operate independently with people in space," he said.

At the same time, Griffin expressed concern that a country like China, which recently successfully completed a manned space mission, may be ready to go to the moon before the United States this time.

"The Chinese are approximately where we were after the first couple of flights of our Gemini series," noted Griffin. "At that point, the United States was four years away from the moon."

He appeared Sunday on C-SPAN, a private, non-profit network that broadcasts U.S. Congressional proceedings and other Washington political events on cable television.