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Astronaut: No Space Tour Buses Yet

Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon during the final Apollo landing, said Thursday he doesn't expect space tourism to become reality in the near future, despite a strong demand.

Cernan, now 70, who was commander of NASA's Apollo 17 mission and set foot on the lunar surface in December 1972 during his third space flight, acknowledged that "there are many people interested in space tourism."

But the former astronaut said he believed "we are a long way away from the day when we can send a bus of tourists to the moon." He spoke to reporters before being awarded a medal by the Czech Academy of Sciences for his contribution to science.

"I think the day ... is very near we can send a school teacher, a student, a poet, an artist, ... a journalist into space," Cernan said. Those space travelers, he said, would "come back and share with the rest of the world their feelings and thoughts."

Cernan was responding to a plan announced by Richard Branson, the British airline mogul and adventurer, for a new " Virgin Galactic" space line. Branson said he will start offering space flights to paying customers in 2007, using rockets based on SpaceShipOne. In June, the ship became the first private manned craft to reach space.

The former astronaut said commercial space flight will always involve risk, "because any dream that is worth working hard to make come true has some risk with it."