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Nasa Chief Charles Bolden: 'We Will Not Return To The Moon In My Lifetime'

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To boldly go - but not go back.

The head of Nasa has admitted that the space agency will not be returning to the Moon "in my lifetime".

Nasa administrator Charles Bolden said that the agency doesn't have the budget to spend on a manned mission to our nearest neighbour.

The admission comes days after President Obama announced initial funding for a mission to lasso an asteroid and bring it closer to Earth, so it can be explored by astronauts.

That plan was criticised last week by Al Carnesale of UCLA, head of a study into Nasa's strategic direction, who said that there was "less enthusiasm" for a mission to land on an asteroid compared to the Moon.

At a meeting of the Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board in Washington, Carnesale said:

"There's a great deal of enthusiasm, almost everywhere, for the Moon," he said. "I think there might be, if no one has to swallow their pride and swallow their words, and you can change the asteroid mission a little bit... it might be possible to move towards something that might be more of a consensus."

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But according to Space Politics, Nasa's Bolden replied later that there was zero chance of Nasa leading a repeat of its breakthrough Apollo missions.

"Nasa does not have a human lunar mission in its portfolio and we are not planning for one," Bolden said.

Bolden added that while many nations, including India and China, have dreams of putting men or women on the Moon, Nasa could only ever be a "participant".

"I have told every head of agency of every partner agency that if you assume the lead in a human lunar mission, Nasa will be a part of that. NASA wants to be a participant," he said.

Nasa will instead focus on asteroids - and Mars.

"Nasa is not going to the Moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime. And the reason is, we can only do so many things."

He said finally that if Nasa changes course now "it means we are probably, in our lifetime, in the lifetime of everybody sitting in this room, we are probably never again going to see Americans on the Moon, on Mars, near an asteroid, or anywhere. We cannot continue to change the course of human exploration".

But there may be hope - while other nations have plans to go the Moon, private companies are also throwing their space helmets in the ring, with at least one planning to reach it by 2020.