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Obama aide: Plans for new moon mission are ‘dead’

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A plan to return US astronauts to the moon “is dead,” a White House adviser on space issues said Friday, confirming reports that NASA will instead focus on developing commercial space transport.

“Constellation is dead,” the adviser told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to a program that envisioned returning to the moon by 2020 and using Earth’s nearest neighbor as a base for manned expeditions to Mars.

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Florida Today newspaper first reported the demise of the program Thursday, saying the plan was doomed by financial constraints in the 2011 budget which President Barack Obama is to present to Congress on Monday.

Reports added that the US space agency will work on finding a commercial solution to ferrying US astronauts to the International Space Station after the scheduled end of NASA’s shuttle program in September 2010.

Only five more shuttle flights, including a mission by the Endeavor set for a February 7 launch, are planned.

Astronauts will be able to hitch rides aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, but the United States will need a commercial alternative if Congress approves White House plans to scrap development of a successor to the shuttle program.

The administration reportedly plans to hike NASA’s budget by 5.9 billion dollars over five years to boost commercial development, with the goal of a first commercial flight to the ISS launching by 2015, the source said.

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The Constellation program was launched in 2004 by then-president George W. Bush.

Space expert John Logsdon said the abandonment of the program did not spell the end for US ambitions in space.

“While Constellation is dead, it does not mean human space exploration is also dead,” said Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

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He said NASA would probably start to plan with the private sector and international partners for the future of the ISS past 2020.

Getting the cancellation through Congress would be “tough,” he added, as lawmakers from Florida and other states with close ties to the space program would oppose anything that threatened local jobs.

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News of Constellation’s cancellation came as NASA marked its day of remembrance, honoring astronauts who died in the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia space missions.

President Obama released a statement paying tribute to those “who lost their lives supporting NASA’s mission of exploration and study of the Earth, the planets and the stars.”

“All of humanity has benefited from their courage and devotion,” he said.

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“We mourn their loss while celebrating their spirit of discovery. May their sacrifice be an inspiration as we continue our nation’s work to explore our universe.”


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GOP lawmaker mocked after whining Adam Schiff wouldn’t let her break impeachment hearing rules

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During the public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump this Friday, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) attempted to direct a line of questions to former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, but was interrupted by Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who informed Devin Nunes (R-CA) that "under the house resolute 660, you are not allowed to yield time except to minority counsel."

As Stefanik continued to try to speak, Schiff repeatedly cut her off. "The gentlewoman will suspend," Schiff said as he swung the gavel. "You're not recognized."

"This is the fifth time you've interrupted members of Congress -- duly elected members of Congress," Stefanik protested.

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France to host Putin, Zelensky in bid to end Ukraine conflict

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Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet his Ukranian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris on December 9 for their first face-to-face encounter, seeking to end the half-decade conflict in Ukraine, the French presidency said Friday.

The leaders will join French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the four-way summit aimed at resolving the conflict in the east of Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have declared breakaway regions, the Elysee Palace said.

Macron, who has been spearheading a drive for peace in Ukraine, had hoped to host the summit in September but it was held up by numerous obstacles that highlighted the difficulty of resolving the conflict.

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Viewers baffled as GOP counsel appears to push anti-Trump talking points during Yovanovich cross-examination

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House Republican impeachment inquiry attorney Steve Castor on Friday baffled viewers with a line of questioning that appeared to be beneficial to House Democrats' case for impeaching President Donald Trump.

Among other things, Castor referred to ambassador Bill Taylor as a man of integrity and also didn't challenge former ambassador Marie Yovanovich's story that she had been the subject of a smear campaign launched by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

In fact, Castor's line of questioning was so friendly to House Democrats, that some Twitter users joked that he was a "deep state plant" who's secretly helping to impeach the president.

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