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Mars or bust! White House announces new space policy.

The new national space policy calls on the space agency to target missions beyond low-Earth orbit – such as to an asteroid – by 2025, with the eventual goal of sending astronauts to Mars.

By Tariq MalikSPACE.com Managing Editor / June 28, 2010

Under the new national space policy, the International Space Station will remain in operation until 2020, not 2015 as originally planned.

NASA/AP/File

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The White House rolled out a sweeping national space policy for the United States on Monday, one that aims to boost international cooperation and reiterates plans to send Americans to visit an asteroid by 2025.

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The 14-page space policy reaches beyond President Barack Obama's plans for NASA – which would shift the goal of U.S. human spaceflight from the moon to visiting asteroids and Mars, according to a plan unveiled in February – touching on future needs for Earth observation, space debris and space security.

"We are releasing a new national space policy, designed to strengthen America's leadership in space while fostering untold rewards here on Earth," President Obama said in a statement Monday. "For even as we continue our relentless focus on the serious challenges we face at home and abroad, our long-term success and leadership as a nation demands that we do not lose sight of the promise of the future."

International cooperation is key on all fronts included in the new space policy, White House officials said.

"If there's one really broad theme it is international cooperation, which is woven throughout the new policy and it's our sort of foundational emphasis for achieving all of our goals in space," said Barry Pavel, senior director for defense policy and strategy for the National Security Council.

The to-do list

More robust cooperation will be vital to develop more comprehensive systems to track global climate change and space weather from orbit, as well as keep taps on the growing risk of space debris collisions with satellites and other vehicles, White House officials said.

The new national space policy reiterates President Obama's proposed new direction for NASA, which calls on the space agency to target missions beyond low-Earth orbit – such as to an asteroid – by 2025 with the goal of sending astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s. [FAQ: NASA's New Direction]

Obama proposed the course change for NASA, which includes canceling the agency's Constellation program building rockets and spaceships to return astronauts to the moon, in February, then in April announced the goal of exploring asteroids by 2025.

The International Space Station, which was slated to end its orbital life in 2015, has been extended through 2020 under the new plan.

"NASA has a key role in achieving the goals defined in the new policy," said NASA chief Charles Bolden on Monday. "We are committed to working with other agencies, industry, and international partners to achieve national goals in exploration – human and robotic – and technology development that will ensure a robust future for the U.S. and our friends around the world."