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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  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

    The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made it onto Nasa's patch for the Multi-Purpose Logistics Model of the International Space Station because <a href="http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/08/nasas-most-awesomely-weird-mission-patches/all/" target="_blank">three of the four modules shared names with the characters.</a>

  • STS-71

    Patch for the STS-71 mission to the Mir space station, the first docking ever made to the station, flown by Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1995.

  • STS-89

    Patch for the STS-89 mission to the Mir space station flown by Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1998.

  • Marvin The Martian

    Warner Brothers <a href="http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=11681" target="_blank">worked with Nasa</a> for these two patches for the NASA Mars Exploration Rover Missions. "Daffy Duck and Marvin The Martian struck us as such a perfect fit, capturing the fun and adventurous spirit of these important explorations, that we were delighted to be able to include them as honorary members of the team," said Captain David Krambeck of TEAM DELTA.

  • Daffy Duck

    Warner Brothers <a href="http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=11681" target="_blank">worked with Nasa</a> for these two patches for the NASA Mars Exploration Rover Missions. "Daffy Duck and Marvin The Martian struck us as such a perfect fit, capturing the fun and adventurous spirit of these important explorations, that we were delighted to be able to include them as honorary members of the team," said Captain David Krambeck of TEAM DELTA.

  • Galileo Mission

    Patch developed for the unmanned Galileo mission, launched in 1989, which arrived at Jupiter six years later.

  • Magellan

    Patch made for the unmanned Magellan mission to Venus, launched in 1989.

  • Buzz Lightyear

    <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/childrens-patches-tell-toys-story.html" target="_blank">Patch designed by 11-year-old Adam from Florida</a>, who won a Nasa competition to design a Buzz Lightyear emblem to take into space.

  • Skylab II

    Patch designed for the first manned mission to the Skylab space station.

  • Gemini 4

  • Gemini 5

  • Apollo 17

    Patch designed for the last Nasa Apollo mission.

  • Apollo 7

    Patch for the 1968 11-day manned mission, the first of the Apollo program.

  • Apollo 10

    Patch for the 'dry run' mission to the Moon - which used the same systems as Apollo 11 but did not actually land on the Moon.

  • STS-56

    Patch designed for the 1993 space shuttle mission.


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.