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Bush Pegs 2019 for Next Giant Step for Man--on Mars : Space: The President does not say how the voyage would be financed. It could cost hundreds of billions and hold grave risks for astronauts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Turning away from a capital immersed in its latest budget battle, President Bush on Friday set his sights on Mars.

He renewed his commitment to landing Americans on the planet--and for the first time set a public deadline for the mission: July 20, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing by U.S. astronauts in the Apollo space program. But he did not say how the multibillion-dollar centerpiece of his new “Age of Exploration” would be financed.

“It’s time to open up the final frontier. There can be no turning back,” Bush said.

“I believe that before Apollo celebrates the 50th anniversary of its landing on the moon, the American flag should be planted on Mars,” the President said in a commencement address at Texas A&I; University here.

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While the President’s deadline for a landing on Mars does not amount to a firm commitment to spend the necessary billions of dollars that will be needed to achieve the goal--that commitment can be accomplished only with the cooperation of Congress--his fiscal 1991 budget has asked for a 24% increase in spending for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the largest increase in funding for any major government agency next year. Under the President’s plan, NASA would receive $15.2 billion in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Bush’s renewed focus on Mars, and space exploration in general, reflects a commitment he made last July 20, on the 20th anniversary of man’s arrival on the moon, to return America to the business of space exploration and to send a manned spaceship to Mars.

At that point, however, he set no timetables or budgets for the Mars mission, directing Vice President Dan Quayle, chairman of the National Space Council, to work out the details.

The President also has set a goal of placing an operating space station in permanent orbit around Earth by the end of the century as the first step toward a permanent manned presence in space. He called for establishing sometime afterward a manned laboratory on the moon.

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The Mars mission would cost hundreds of billions of dollars over the next three decades--one estimate has it costing $30 billion to $35 billion annually--and would culminate in a dangerous space voyage of two to three years.

Asked aboard Air Force One as he was about to leave Washington for Texas whether the United States could indeed reach his Mars goal in 30 years, he replied: “You have to go fairly fast. It’s a long way out there.”

As for where the money would come from, he replied, “Thirty years is a long time.”

The risks of the journey are awesome: The astronauts’ spaceship could collide with a meteoroid that could cause rapid decompression--and death; violent storms on the surface of the sun could blast them with deadly radiation, if their craft is unprotected, and the team could be forced to spend a year on Mars, waiting for the planet to be aligned properly with Earth to allow them to return.

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For his speech Friday, Bush chose a 65-year-old university in the southern tip of Texas, a state heavily involved with the aerospace industry. Texas A&I; has an enrollment of nearly 6,000 students, 57% of whom are Latino. It graduated 407 students Friday.

Bush said that the nation’s renewed commitment to exploration of space--and his related plan to use space vehicles to better chart conditions on Earth, including changes in climate--would generate widespread benefits.

“Our space program will help rekindle public interest in science and mathematics and revitalize an area of our educational system that has become disturbingly weak,” the President said. “It will revolutionize everything from computers to communications, from medicine to metals, regaining and retaining America’s high-tech competitive edge. It will create new technologies, new industries and new jobs.”

While the mission to Mars is the most dramatic element in Bush’s overall space policy, the program dubbed “Mission to Planet Earth” is geared to produce more immediate results.

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It is intended to use satellites with a new array of sensors to measure sea and land temperatures, deforestation, and other elements in the phenomenon known as global warming over a period of several years.


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