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Shake-up urged so NASA can return to moon

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA must make difficult and controversial changes — like turning its Apollo-era field centers into innovative research hubs — if the nation is to send humans back to the moon and on to Mars, a presidential commission said Wednesday.

The commission issued 14 recommendations for achieving the goals outlined by President Bush in January and stressed that adopting all of them will increase the chances of success.

"This is a tremendous thing for NASA. . . . This has got to last through 10 presidential terms, at least," said commission chairman Edward "Pete" Aldridge, a retired Defense Department official.

Aldridge and members of his commission presented the 60-page report to Vice President Cheney and then met with reporters in Washington.

Aldridge said reaction from the White House was positive. And NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe called the recommendations "quite remarkable."

The moon-Mars commission spent the past four months conducting hearings around the country and reviewing thousands of ideas from experts, educators and space enthusiasts.

In the end, the group settled on eight findings and 14 recommendations on how best to implement the president's vision of landing astronauts on the moon by 2020 and getting them to Mars a decade or two later.

Among them: NASA should give a larger share of its launch work to industry. And it should transform its field centers into federally funded research and development centers, like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The nine field centers — still stuck in the 1960s Apollo era with an aging work force, old buildings and "ossified" practices, and often duplicating one another's efforts — "are not optimally configured to carry out the nation's space exploration vision," the commission said in its report.

Aldridge said the exploration plan will boost the U.S. economy and competitiveness by creating good technical jobs, improve national security through the advanced technology that results, ensure America's leadership in the world, and inspire youngsters and teachers.

Aldridge and other commissioners defended the "pay-as-you-go approach" adopted by NASA, and said it is not essential — and not even possible — to calculate the full cost of the program.

"How much is the cure for cancer going to cost? I don't know that either, but I know what I can afford on an annual basis to try to get there and this is the same model we're using for the space program," he said.

On the Net:

President's moon-Mars commission: www.moontomars.org