WASHINGTON -- President Bush will announce plans next week to send Americans to Mars and establish a permanent human presence on the moon, senior administration officials said last night.
Bush will not propose sending Americans to Mars anytime soon; rather, he envisions preparing for the mission more than a decade from now, one official said.
In addition to a return trip to the moon for the first time since December 1972, the president also wants to build a permanent space station there.
Three senior officials said Bush wants to aggressively reinvigorate the space program, which has been demoralized by a series of setbacks, including the space shuttle disaster last February that killed seven astronauts.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush's announcement would come in the middle of next week.
Bush has been expected to propose a bold new space mission in an effort to rally Americans around a unifying theme as he campaigns for reelection.
Many insiders had speculated he might set forth goals at the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' famed flight last month in North Carolina. Instead, he said only that America would continue to lead the world in aviation.
Earlier, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with Bush in Florida that the president would make an announcement about space next week, but he declined to give details.
No one, least of all members of Congress, knows how NASA would pay for lunar camps or Mars expeditions. The last time a president pushed such ambitious ideas -- the first President Bush on the 20th anniversary of the first manned moon landing -- the estimated price tag was $400 billion to $500 billion.
The moon is just three days away while Mars is at least six months away, and the lunar surface therefore could be a safe place to shake out Martian equipment. Observatories also could be built on the moon, and mining camps could be set up to gather helium-3 for conversion into fuel for use back on Earth.