The crew exploration vehicle would replace the space shuttle, due to be retired in 2010, but not before 2012 and possibly as late as 2014 depending on the money available, Griffin said. It could carry as many as six astronauts back and forth to the international space station.
If all goes well, the first crew would set off for the moon by 2018 - or 2020 at the latest, the year targeted by President Bush who proposed such an initiative last year. The same type of vessel could be used, one day, to transport astronauts to Mars.
The new exploration plan would allow four astronauts to stay on the moon for a week - twice as long as Apollo missions. It also would haul considerably more cargo, much of which would be left on the moon for future crews. In time, lunar stays of up to six months would be possible.