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US wants to return to the moon and Trump wants extra $1.6 billion for it

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Washington: The Trump administration asked Congress to increase NASA spending next year by an extra $1.6 billion as a “down payment” to accommodate the accelerated goal of returning Americans to the surface of the moon by 2024.

The increased funding request, announced by President Donald Trump on Twitter, comes nearly two months after Vice President Mike Pence declared the objective of shortening by four years NASA`s previous timeline for putting astronauts back on the moon for the first time since 1972.

The proposed increase would bring NASA`s total spending level for the 2020 fiscal year to $22.6 billion. The bulk of the increase is earmarked for research and development of a human lunar landing system, according to a summary provided by NASA.

 

“Under my Administration, we are restoring @NASA to greatness and we are going back to the Moon, then Mars,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “I am updating my budget to include an additional $1.6 billion so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!”

NASA previously aimed to return crewed spacecraft to the lunar surface by 2028, after first putting a “Gateway” station into orbit around the moon by 2024.

The newly accelerated goal – an endeavor likely to cost tens of billions of dollars – comes as NASA has struggled with the help of private partners to resume human space missions from US soil for the first time since the shuttle program ended in 2011.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called the revised funding request a “down payment of confidence” from the White House.

“Our goal here is to build a program that gets us to the moon as soon as possible,” Bridenstine told reporters on a telephone conference call late on Monday.

“In the coming years, we will need additional funds,” he said. “But this is a good amount that gets us out of the gate in a very strong fashion.”

Phil Larson, a former space policy adviser under Trumps Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, questioned whether Congress had fully embraced Trumps ambition to speed up human lunar exploration.

“I’m worried that without proper congressional buy-in, this budget amendment is at best, a massive waste of time, and at worst, pushing risky political timelines that could set NASA back for years,” Larson told Reuters.

Bridenstine said $651 million of the extra funding would go toward NASA`s Space Launch System — the super-heavy rocket whose decade-long development led by Boeing Co has been hampered by delays and cost overruns — as well as design and construction of a new crew capsule called Orion.

The US Apollo program, NASAs forerunner to the effort at returning humans to Earths natural satellite, tallied six manned missions to the moon from 1969 to 1972.

So far, only two other nations have conducted controlled “soft” landings on the moon – the former Soviet Union and China – but those were with unmanned robot vehicles.

Bridenstine said he was optimistic that Trump`s request would draw bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

The amendment envisions a simplified blueprint for the Lunar Gateway, the planned space outpost in lunar orbit that will serve as a stepping stone for sending astronauts to the moon`s surface.

NASA officials said they would turn to private companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing and Jeff Bezos` Blue Origin for proposals on the design of Gateway and the human landing system.

Bezos, the richest person in the world and founder of Amazon.com Inc, unveiled last Thursday his space company`s mock-up of a lunar lander being built by Blue Origin.

Bridenstine capped Mondays media call by announcing that NASAs latest lunar initiative would be named Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and of the moon in Greek mythology and the twin sister of Apollo.


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International

Threats to US would mean Iran’s end, warns Trump

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Washington: US President Donald Trump has asked Iran “never to threaten” the US and warned Tehran that if it wants a fight, it would be “the official end” of the Islamic nation.

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump tweeted.

His tweets appeared to be a considerable shift in tone from the President’s brief remarks at the White House on May 16, when he responded “I hope not” after being asked whether the US and Iran were headed toward war, The Washington Post reported.

 

The White House has not officially responded to Trump’s tweets.

Trump issued his threat a few hours after the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami, said on Sunday that Iran does not fear a war but the US does, reports Efe news.

Salami said in a speech at a military ceremony broadcast on state-run Iranian TV that Tehran was not seeking war but did not fear it either, in contrast to the US, which is afraid of war and does not have the willpower to engage in one.

He also warned that the entire Middle East could become “a powder keg” for Washington.

Last week, the US decided to deploy to the Persian Gulf the amphibious assault ship USS Arlington, Patriot missiles, the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and assorted warplanes, including bombers, after claiming that it had detected unspecified “indications” of Iranian plans to attack US forces in the Middle East.

In recent weeks, concern has been increasing that National Security Adviser John Bolton, a long-time hawk on Iran who was instrumental in instigating the invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush, might be working to edge the administration closer to some kind of military action against Tehran.

Last year, prior to bringing Bolton into the administration as one of his top advisers, Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal. More recently, Trump has tightened economic sanctions against the Tehran regime and his administration says it has built up the US military presence in the region.

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White House unveils 1st part of Middle East peace plan

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Washington: The White House has unveiled the first part of its Middle East peace proposal, which is being deemed as an economic “workshop” to encourage investing capital in the West Bank, Gaza, and the region, a senior administration official told CNN.

The White House announced on Sunday that the workshop will take place in Manama, Bahrain, on June 25 and 26, bringing together finance ministers with global and regional business leaders.

The effort is being headed by Jared Kushner, the senior White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who have spent years developing the proposal along with the much stickier political component, which officials said would be announced later in the year.

 

Kushner told CNN that “people are letting their grandfathers’ conflict destroy their children’s futures. This will present an exciting, realistic and viable pathway forward that does not currently exist”.

The senior administration official said that the plan will discuss four major components: infrastructure; industry; empowering and investing in people; and governance reforms “to make the area as investible as possible”.

The economic plan will also include a “combination of grant money, low interest loans and then also private capital”, the official said.

The workshop however, will avoid political issues such as whether the Palestinians will get their own state; the status of Jerusalem; measures Israel takes in the name of security; and what should happen with Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were expelled from Israel around the time of the state’s creation in 1948, he added.

Finance ministers, but not foreign ministers, will be invited along with delegations of business leaders.

However, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told CNN that the plan was “futile”.

“Any economic plan without political horizons will lead nowhere… Palestinians will not accept any proposals which do not include a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The decision on whether or not Palestinians would attend the workshop would be made by the leadership of Abbas, Abu Rudeineh said, adding that when a similar meeting was held in Washington in March 2018 to discuss ways of improving the economic and humanitarian situation facing Gazans, the Palestinians had chosen to stay away.

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Tourist bus near Egypt’s Gaza pyramids hit with bomb; injures 17

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Cairo: A roadside bomb hit a tourist bus near the Giza Pyramids, wounding at least 17 people including tourists, Egyptian officials said. The officials said the bus was travelling on a road close to the under-construction Grand Egyptian Museum, which is located adjacent to the Giza Pyramids but is not yet open to tourists.

The bus was carrying at least 25 people mostly from South Africa, officials added. The attack comes as Egypt’s vital tourism industry is showing signs of recovery after years in the doldrums because of the political turmoil and violence that followed a 2011 uprising that toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak.

The officials said security forces cordoned off the site of the explosion and the wounded were taken to a nearby hospital. The explosion damaged a windshield of another car, they said. Footage circulated online shows shattered windows of the bus.

 

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief media. Atif Moftah, general supervisor of the Grand Egyptian Museum, said the explosion did not cause any damage to the museum, in a statement issued by the antiquities ministry.

No group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. It is the second to target foreign tourists near the famed pyramids in less than six months.

In December, a bus carrying 15 Vietnamese tourists was hit by a roadside bomb, killing at least three of them.

Egypt has battled Islamic militants for years in the Sinai Peninsula in an insurgency that has occasionally spilled over to the mainland, hitting minority Christians or tourists. The insurgency gained strength after the 2013 military overthrow of the country’s first freely elected president, an Islamist whose brief rule sparked mass protests.

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