NASA unveils new spaceship for travel to Moon and Mars

NASA, unveiled the spacecraft that will succeed the Space Shuttle program: the Crew Exploration Vehicle, or CEV. The spacecraft will be designed to carry four astronauts to and from the moon, support up to six crewmembers on a future mission to Mars and deliver crew and supplies to the International Space Station.

The U.S. Space Agency Administrator Michael Griffin defended the $104 billion dollar lunar program, saying it is intended to make President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration a reality.

The Administrator said on Monday, "Unless the United States wants to get out of the manned space flight business completely, then this is the vehicle we need to be building. And I don't hear anyone saying that the United States would be better off being out of space when other nations are there," reports VOA.

Griffin says the mission could cost at least $104 billion. He says the agency would adopt a pay-as-you-go approach and would not need to drastically increase its budget, now at about $16 billion per year.

He insists that space science and aeronautics will not suffer with a new emphasis on a crewed Moon mission. "This is about a budget which keeps NASA in constant dollars approximately where it is today," he says. "It's not about taking money from the science program or the aeronautics program."

But critics are unconvinced. Currently, NASA's share of the federal budget is about 0.7%. During the Apollo era, NASA took up as much as 4% of the US budget.

"I don't think this plan will succeed," says Alex Roland, a history professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, US. "It's plausible in a certain way because they have taken things from Apollo and the shuttle that were reasonably successful and good. Who knows whether or not you can quickly and cheaply cobble those together into a workable system?"

But others defend the plan, arguing the agency needs to move beyond its current Earth-orbiting shuttle and space station programmes. "It's obvious there's a rocket scientist running NASA again," says Elliot Pulham, president and chief executive officer of the Space Foundation, a non-profit space advocacy group. "I wish I was still young enough to go," informs New Scientist.

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