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40 years after the moon, US space plans at crossroads

world Updated: Jul 20, 2009 01:01 IST

The US on Monday marks the 40th anniversary of its conquest of the moon, a triumph of scientific endeavour now remembered at a time when US dominance in space is increasingly uncertain.

President Barack Obama kicks off a week of events when he meets Monday at the White House with the crew of the Apollo 11 mission, who became the first to accomplish the dream of ages and walk on the surface of the moon.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said astronaut Neil Armstrong as he stepped down from the lunar lander on July 20, 1969, as an estimated 500 million people on Earth crowded round televisions and radios.

Four decades ago, at the height of the Cold War, the US achievement was a huge morale booster to a country mired in the bloody Vietnam war, ushering in a new sense of confidence and challenging concepts of science and religion.

But dreams that one day we might all be able to travel to the stars have been rudely brought down to earth.

Plans to put US astronauts back on the moon by 2020 to establish manned lunar bases for further space exploration to Mars under the Constellation project are increasingly in doubt — because its mounting costs are coming under greater scrunity.