MIAMI – Barack Obama called Sunday for astronauts to be sent to the moon by 2020 and then possibly to Mars, once again reversing his earlier stance in favor of scaling back the space program.

The soon-to-be Democratic nominee’s new space plan includes recently announced proposals to add a shuttle mission after its planned retirement in 2010 and to re-establish the National Aeronautics and Space Council.

Last year, Obama backed delaying funding for NASA’s Constellation program, the shuttle’s successor, to pay for his education plan.

“I immediately talked to Barack in December, and to his credit, he changed that position,” said Sen. Bill Nelson during a conference call Sunday with reporters.

Nelson, a former astronaut, said Obama would find money for education by reducing spending on pet projects in Congress.

He noted that Florida’s Kennedy Space Center faces the loss of thousands of jobs over the next two years.

The Republican Party had a different take on Obama’s position on a key economic issue in a must-win state:

“Let’s be honest: Obama is only embracing NASA now because of his political problems in Florida,” said Alex Conant, a Republican National Committee spokesman, in a statement.

The latest polls show Republican John McCain with a narrow lead over Obama in Florida.

McCain supports funding the Constellation program and wants to “minimize the gap” when the space shuttle program ends, according to his campaign Web site.

Obama’s space plan was released one day before McCain was scheduled to meet with industry leaders in Brevard County, though Tropical Storm Fay could threaten that visit.


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