Obama outlines new U.S. space exploration plan (2)

08:14, April 16, 2010      

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The new version of the Orion spacecraft would be launched unmanned to the International Space Station to serve as an escape ship for American astronauts, giving NASA more flexibility from its reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, White House officials said.

The president was making a trip to the heart of the U.S. space industry, seeking to explain why he aborted former president George W. Bush's return-to-the moon plan.

Obama has faced sharp criticism for proposing to abandon the Constellation moon program after nine billion dollars has been spent, and to allocate six billion dollars to support private companies in developing space rockets to carry astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA's original Constellation program aimed at retiring the space shuttle fleet in late 2010 and replacing it with Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets by 2015. But an independent review by a White House committee found the program behind schedule and underfunded to accomplish its end-goal of returning astronauts to the moon by 2020.

"We've been there before," Obama said. "There's a lot more of space to explore."

The Obama administration estimates the new plan would create an estimated 2,500 jobs in the Cape Canaveral area.

To ease the transition for workers dislocated, Obama proposed a 40-million-dollar fund to help transform the regional economy around NASA's Florida facilities and prepare its workforce for new opportunities.

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