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Obama brings back NASA capsule plan

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is reviving the NASA crew capsule concept that he had canceled with the rest of the moon program earlier this year, in a move that will mean more jobs and less reliance on the Russians, officials said yesterday.

The space capsule, called Orion, won't go to the moon. It will go unmanned to the International Space Station as an emergency vehicle to return astronauts home, officials said.

Administration officials also said NASA will speed up development of a massive rocket. It would have the power to blast crew and cargo far from Earth, although no destination has been chosen yet. The rocket would be ready to launch several years earlier than under the old moon plan.

The two moves are being announced before a visit by Obama Thursday to Cape Canaveral, Fla. They are designed to counter criticism of the administration's space plans as being low on detail, physical hardware and local jobs.

The president killed President George W. Bush's moon mission, called Constellation, as being unsustainable.

In a major shift, the Obama space plan relies on private companies to fly to the space station. But it also extends the space station's life by five years and puts billions into research to eventually develop new government rocket ships for future missions to a nearby asteroid, the moon, Martian moons or other points in space. Those stops would be stepping stones on an eventual mission to Mars. - AP

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