Those of us who love the thrill of space exploration are disappointed that so much recent NASA activity has centered on military and commercial projects. But now it looks like we may finally be returning to the Moon?so we can get there before China does.

Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut, recently returned to Earth after orbiting the Earth 14 times. Chinese officials say this is only the beginning?that they plan to send astronauts to the Moon next. Now a NASA report suggests that during the celebrations at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina on December 17, President Bush may announce that we’re returning to the Moon.

This is surprising, since after the recent shuttle disaster, there have many calls for NASA to end its human spaceflight program and stick with robots in the future. But robots can’t claim a territory. NASA’s Frank Sietzen says they are planning the “resumption of manned lunar flights to develop advanced technologies that can support U.S. astronauts working beyond Earth orbit to not only the Moon, but eventually to near-Earth asteroids and Mars.” In other words, the Moon can be a staging area for human exploration farther out in space?and we can keep an eye on the Chinese at the same time.

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