NASA's Next Big Steps May Be Unmanned

The price of a putting human feet on the moon again is beyond sky-high.

The national space agency's biggestdreamers and best engineers are still aiming for a return mannedmission to the moon by 2020 followed by a pioneering mission to Mars adecade or so later. That's their official goal in theory and onesanctioned by Congress. But the cost estimates are simply crushing, andmounting federal deficits will require the agency to rein in itsbiggest plans by a galactic scale or two. Look for lots more attentionto be lavished on unmanned space science in the next decade.

Early cost estimates of about $1 trillion over 25 years to return to the moon and later plant a flag on Mars are causing more than a few budget migraines, and the technological challenges of the ambitious project are myriad and steep.

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Richard Sammon
Senior Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter