Bush Plugs NASA Moon Mission During Town Hall Meeting

WASHINGTON -- NASA and the vision for spaceexploration received a rare plug from President George W. Bush on Tuesday whenthe U.S. leader told a Cleveland audience why he decided in 2004 tohave the space agency set its sights on the Moon.

?I believein exploration, space exploration. And we changed the mission to make itrelevant,? he said.

Bush wasspeaking at a town hall-style meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel Clevelandwhen he was asked by a member of the audience to comment on how he intended tofund NASA and its new mission ?going forward.?

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Thepresident dodged the essence of the question, saying ?I can't give you theexact level of funding?.

But he didexplain to the audience why he directed NASA in the aftermath of the 2003 SpaceShuttle Columbia accident to develop a new human space transportation systemand come up with a plan for returning to the Moon by 2020.

?I thinkthat NASA needed to become relevant . . . to justify the spending of yourmoney, and therefore, I helped change the mission from one of orbiting in aspace shuttle -- in a space station -- to one of becoming a different kind ofgroup of explorers,? he said, according to a transcript of the event releasedby the White House. ?And therefore, we set a new mission, which is to go to theMoon and set up a launching there from which to further explore space.?

?And thereason I did that is,? Bush continued, ?I do want to make sure the Americanpeople stay involved with -- or understand the relevance of this exploration. I'ma big -- I support exploration, whether it be the exploration of new medicine-- that would be like [National Institutes of Health] grants -- the explorationof space through NASA.?

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