Sunday, January 18, 2004

Beyond the Moon: Inside Bush's space plan: "The Bush administration's new plan for America's space program is the product of a year of difficult choices made behind the scenes, resulting in a comprehensive approach to human exploration of the solar system and a sweeping restructuring of the country's space program."

"Even without the Columbia accident investigation, more than a few complaints from members of Congress addressed the purpose of the space program. What was it for? And where should it go?"

"One thing that emerged from the year-long discussions was an intense interest in recruiting new players to explore and develop space."

"Space companies might be able to supply small communications satellites orbiting the moon, for example, keeping landing parties in touch with Earth, even if they traveled to the moon's far side. In fact, the issue of how to leverage commercial space entrepreneurs or companies—even universities—into a new attempt at moon landings was taken seriously."

"Potential private partners could contribute in various ways. A Global Positioning System or GPS satellite system in lunar orbit could guide all incoming craft to precision lunar landings. … The lunar GPS idea also could be applied to Mars exploration."

"The plan called for granting NASA an immediate—though relatively modest—budget increase, as well as an additional boost spread over several years. As Bush looked at the numbers, the others wondered if he would agree to them, given that only two other agencies—the departments of Defense and Homeland Security—were marked for increases in fiscal year 2005."

"As the discussions moved toward a final choice—the moon and then perhaps onward—Bush turned to Cheney. 'This is more than just the Moon, isn't it?' he asked. … Then the vice president spoke up: 'Then this is really about going to these other destinations, isn't it?' he asked. All agreed. One other item emerged: the president expressed a preference for inviting other nations to participate in the effort. Agreed on all the major points, Bush ended the discussion. 'Let's do it,' he said."

"In September 1962, President John F. Kennedy made a major space policy address before a crowded Rice University stadium in Houston. 'Why some say the moon?' Kennedy asked. 'Why choose this as our goal? And you may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, cross the Atlantic? We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.'

"Now, 42 years later, another U.S. President would call on the nation to return to the moon. This time, the effort would not represent an endpoint for the nation in space, but a stepping stone for even more ambitious explorations to come. What remains to be seen, as 2004 begins, is whether Congress and the country will follow."

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