Washington, July 11 : America is losing its lead in the space race as other countries are challenging its dominance on the "final frontier", NASA's head has warned.
A recent report on international space competitiveness by Futron, an American technology consultancy, has concluded that "systemic and competitive forces threaten US space leadership".
In 1998, the US launched 121 new satellites, but that number had fallen to 53 - about 50 per cent of the total - by 2007.
Michael Griffin, NASA's administrator, acknowledged that the US space agency's budget had fallen by 20 per cent in real terms since 1992. He told the Washington Post: "We spent many tens of billions of dollars during the Apolla era to purchase a commanding lead in space over all nations on Earth."
"We've been living off the fruit of that purchase for 40 years and have not... chosen to invest at a level that would preserve that commanding lead."
India has followed China in announcing a manned space programme, while the European Union is expected to approve a plan in November to collaborate with Russia on a similar project. Japanese and Chinese satellites are circling the moon and will eventually be joined by ones from India and Russia.