Clinton pulls out of race to Mars

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Seattle - The US President Bill Clinton is abandoning his predecessor's initiative to put a man on Mars by 2019, it was revealed last night. The new policy instead commits Nasa to putting a robot on Mars by 2000.

The decision by George Bush in 1990 to formulate the goal of putting a man on Mars provided some of the political impetus to a $100bn project to put a permanently manned space station in orbit by 2000.

But following a three-year review of space policy ordered by President Clinton, a "space summit" in December is likely to emphasise greater efficiency in the space programme by transferring activities to the private sector, the Washington Post reported.

While the White House was disengaging itself from plans to put men on Mars, the space odyssey of the female astronaut Shannon Lucid ended. Ms Lucid hugged men from the space shuttle Atlantis who arrived at Russia's Mir space station to take her home after a record-breaking six months in orbit.

Ms Lucid was finally reunited with her compatriots on Wednesday more than two hours after the spacecraft linked 240 miles above the Carpathian Mountains. She offered the astronauts packets of bread and salt, a traditional Russian welcome.

Her departure was delayed one and half months, and she now swaps places with the Atlantis astronaut John Blaha.