NASA delays robotic moon mission until 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- NASA is delaying the launch of an unmanned spacecraft to the moon.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is designed to scout for potential astronaut landing sites, was supposed to blast off from Florida in early December aboard an Atlas rocket. But the launch was pushed back after NASA agreed to swap with the Air Force, which will fly a prototype space drone.

A NASA spokesman says the new launch window, which opens February 27th, relieves schedule pressure and provides more launch opportunities.

The spacecraft is the first step in NASA's program to send astronauts back to the moon and beyond. But the agency will miss the Bush administration's stated goal of exploring the moon with a robotic spacecraft by 2008. NASA plans to land astronauts on the moon by 2020.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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