Bush to Announce Ventures to Mars and the Moon, Officials Say (NYT)
President Bush will make a speech next week outlining a major space
initiative, the White House said last night.
Administration officials said they expected that Mr. Bush would propose
a research and development program with the aim of establishing a base
on the moon, as a prelude to a longer-term goal of sending humans to Mars.
Aboard Air Force One en route to Washington, the president's press
secretary, Scott McClellan, told reporters, "The president directed his
administration to do a comprehensive review of our space policy,
including our priorities and the future of the program, and the
president will have more to say on it next week."
But another administration official cautioned that the proposal could be
broad and open-ended, more in the nature of "a mission statement" rather
than a detailed road map and schedule.
Still, the announcement, combined with Mr. Bush's call this week to
revamp laws regarding immigration, would signal the second major policy
initiative put forward by the White House at the beginning of an
election year. Both new policy directives would allow the president to
be portrayed as an inspirational leader whose vision goes beyond
terrorism and tax cuts.
They also would have the added political benefit of diverting attention
from the Democratic presidential candidates trudging through the retail
politics of the Iowa caucuses.
NASA officials have said publicly since late summer that a group of
senior policy advisers, convened by the White House, was meeting to
establish new goals for the agency. The report on the Feb. 1 breakup of
the space shuttle Columbia, which killed seven astronauts, said one of
NASA's problems was the lack of a long-term, inspiring goal and called
for a public debate on the issue. But that debate has largely waited for
the White House, which has been distracted by the war in Iraq.
The report was released in late August, and in the months since, several
news reports have appeared asserting that the White House was preparing
to announce a return to the moon as a steppingstone to Mars. Some of
these suggested that the announcement would come when the president
attended a commemoration of the centennial of powered flight, in Kitty
Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, but the president made no policy statement there.
In exhorting the country to undertake an ambitious space program, Mr.
Bush would follow the example of at least two presidents. In 1961, John
F. Kennedy challenged the nation to send a man to the moon by the end of
the decade. And in 1989, Mr. Bush's father, George Bush, proposed
establishing a base on the Moon, sending an expedition to Mars and
beginning "the permanent settlement of space."
But while President Kennedy's challenge resulted in an eight-year sprint
to the moon, the elder President Bush's proposal went nowhere. By the
time the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated in February, NASA had made
no significant progress on how it would return to the moon, much less
laying the groundwork for the far more complex question of developing a
space ship with sufficient propulsion and speed to take people to Mars.
The NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, has spoken publicly in some detail
about the problems of a manned landing on Mars, saying the nation would
have to develop new methods of propulsion and electricity generation in
space and a way to protect the astronauts from large radiation doses.
The problems are related; the radiation dose is proportional to the
length of the round trip, which depends in part on propulsion, and the
propulsion could be driven by electricity.
The questions Mr. O'Keefe raised are integral to another nagging
problem: what should replace the shuttle? There are three surviving
shuttles, but the program has been operating for 20 years, and the
design is even older. NASA has begun preliminary design work on a new
system to carry astronauts to low earth orbit, to reach the
International Space Station and presumably achieve other goals as well,
but its purpose is not yet clear.
The issue is urgent because any replacement would probably be a decade
away, by which time the shuttles, if they are still flying, would be
about 30 years old, experts say.
The administration, however, is facing competing priorities, experts
say. One question, as noted by the chairman of the Columbia Accident
Investigation Board in August, is how much the nation can commit to
spending, at a time of record budget deficits.
"This stuff is not cheap," said the chairman, Harold W. Gehman Jr., a
John Logsdon, the director of the Space Policy Institute at George
Washington University, who was a member of Admiral Gehman's
investigative board, said yesterday evening that the report had "led the
administration to say we need to articulate a vision for the program and
give a sense of where we're going and why."
Aides on Capitol Hill said they were uncertain about precisely what
mission the president would call for, although many analysts have argued
that a simple return to the moon, which astronauts first visited almost
35 years ago, would not be enough.
One expert on NASA management, Harold E. McCurdy of American University,
said that if, in fact, the plan was to go to the moon, the overall goal
would be broader.
"The ultimate purpose of going back to the moon is not to go the moon,"
Mr. McCurdy said. "It's to go to Mars and explore the inner solar
system. It's like climbing Mount Rainier in preparation for an ascent of
But several space experts said yesterday evening that the announcement
might be in the nature of a long-term goal and research program. This
would avoid any huge expenditure in the near term, unlike, for example,
the drive in the 1960's to reach the moon the first time.
If the announcement comes next week, it will probably occur as NASA's
new Mars lander continues to send back stunning photos and other
Congressional aides also said they expected the announcement to detail a
reorganization of the nation's space effort, to bring the military and
civilian sides closer together to make better use of limited resources.
Ismaeel Abdur-Rasheed wrote:
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