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NASA, which has sent men to the moon and space for decades, may have to shelve its ambitious plans of sending astronauts to further reaches of space beyond the moon - it faces nearly $1 billion in cleanup costs for the deep chemical messes it has left behind at Kennedy Space Center and other launch centers.

NASA estimates it will take nearly a century to clean up the viscous toxic goo that has seeped deep into the sandy soils beneath the launch pads and it may force it to cut down on funding for future space missions.

While NASA estimates that it will need to spend $96 million in the next 30 years to clean up the chemical mess left behind at Kennedy Space Center, including $6 million this year, the Air Force said it will need another $50 million to clean up the mess at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by 2017.

Historically, the agency has been spending an average of $8 million to $10 million annually to clean up the Kennedy Space Center and since 1989, it has spent a total of $128 million. Last year, NASA spent $4 million and this year the cleanup costs spiked to $6 million.

The USA Today reported the Air Force, which is responsible for cleaning up the chemical mess at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, has spent $175 million since 1985 investigating and cleaning up 94 of 127 contamination sites, excluding $15 million spent on several ongoing cleanups at nearby Patrick Air Force Base.

NASA said most of the contamination go back all the way to the Apollo Program (1959-1968) and before federal laws that addressed the potential hazards of the carcinogenic chemicals were passed. For instance, an estimated 88,000 pounds of the toxic solvent seeped deep into the soil and groundwater during 1959 and 1968 when NASA launched Saturn rockets from Launch Complex 34 at Cape Canaveral.

It was not until 1970, a year after the historic walk on the moon, that US President Richard Nixon set up the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the environmental damage.

Space programs in recent years have contributed little to the environmental pollution.

Following are some of the startling discoveries made by a Florida Today analysis of hundreds of pages of Kennedy and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station cleanup records and extensive databases of toxic spills obtained under the Freedom of Information Act:

> The chemically contaminated soil and groundwater is estimated to be spread across at least 2 square miles with some of the "plumes" reaching as deep as 90 feet, at Kennedy and the air station, from where the earliest rockets were launched. It includes 600 acres of chemical plumes at Kennedy or nearby sites under former NASA control and 1,030 acres at Canaveral.

> The most common chemical contaminant is a chlorinated solvent called trichloroethylene, or "trike," and its breakdown products. They are known to cause birth defects and cancer and their concentration levels are thousands times higher than federal drinking water standards allow.

> Of the 267 known contamination sites at Kennedy or under former NASA control, 141 have been cleaned up. The other half are either under investigation, undergoing treatment or are simply left alone for the contaminants to break down naturally.

> Though no one drinks water drawn at the space center, nor the air station, yet federal law mandates the cleanup because other potential harm to humans and wildlife is uncertain.

> The agency and the Air Force use taxpayer dollars to clean up their mess.