January 13, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 56  

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Bush says “I need some space”

Space: the expensive frontier.

United States President George W. Bush’s recent announcement about American plans to build a permanent base on the moon, with an eye towards an eventual manned flight to Mars, has brought some positive exposure to the space program almost a year after the space shuttle Columbia exploded, killing its seven-person crew.

The obvious comparison is to John F. Kennedy’s promise to put an American on the moon by the end of the 1960s, though a cynic might say Bush is just trying to look like a strong leader during an election year and is inviting comparison to JFK. Heck, Bush is already from a famed political family and narrowly won an election; he’s just a few affairs with starlets and an unfortunate run-in with a grassy knoll away from being outed as the latest distant Kennedy cousin and developing an exaggerated Massachusetts accent.

But anyway, I’ll be generous and say Dubya is merely being ambitious, since this plan is longterm enough that it will only happen after Bush leaves office. American taxpayers, however, are the ones who could be facing the effects of this decision for a long time. In order to build moon bases and shuttles capable of going to Mars, it’s going to cost a lot more than the $15.5 billion that the American government currently spends on NASA.

This issue of “why now” is probably the most pressing in regards to the space program, since nobody questions that space exploration is a noble and important pursuit. I think we all had that “I wanna be an astronaut” phase, though in my case it was motivated by the fact that Superman was from space, so space was cool. Ah, youthful logic.

In the ’60s, however, the space race was more urgent. The U.S. felt they had to beat the Soviets to the moon as a result of Cold War pride. In 2004, however, there is no competing superpower with a space program anywhere near the equal of the States. China is perhaps the closest thing to the Soviet Union version 2.0 (now with a billion people and a big-ass wall!), but their space program is years away from the Russians, let alone the Americans.

Space may have the Star Trek street cred as the final frontier, but it appears as though we still have many frontiers to cross here on Earth, such as solving problems in education, health, poverty and the environment. Future NASA missions are certainly important, but the U.S. needs to clean up some domestic problems first before it gets off on Mars.



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