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The future of the U.S. manned shuttle mission is considered bleak, as NASA needs at least $3 billion more per year

The U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee now believes NASA must come up with an additional $3 billion per year to be able to launch manned missions to the moon or to Mars.

The committee said the U.S. space agency absolutely must rely more on private contractors to help fly astronauts back to the International Space Station, and other low Earth-orbit destinations.  Five years ago during the Bush era, it was planned for NASA to get back to the moon by 2020 -- a goal that is extremely unlikely to be met.

Although China, Russia, Japan, India, and the United States all have outlined plans to get back to the moon, it seems like Mars is the true goal for every major space nation.

"You can say that Mars is a destination, but it's really more like Mars is a goal because we're not setting a date," said Leroy Chiao, a member of the 10-person committee, who spoke with Reuters.  "It's saying these are the things we need to do to build up the infrastructure to get to Mars, this is how much money we have now, and we'll see in the next several years what we think we can get done. Then it'll be for the next budget cycles after that to figure out when we might actually get to Mars."

China is expected to be the next country to reach the moon again, according to U.S. space officials, noting there just isn't enough funding going into NASA's long-term manned missions.

Furthermore, the current fleet of space shuttles, which were supposed to be retired in 2010, will likely fly into 2011, the panel said.  President Barack Obama's advisers will analyze the committee's findings, but it's unknown when the president will begin to outline what lies ahead for NASA over the next few years.





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