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Allan

Bush's Space Plan

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Funding, Technical Hurdles Seen for Bush Space Plan

Fri 9 January, 2004 20:52

By Broward Liston

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - President Bush's expected space initiative to send Americans back to the moon and ultimately to Mars may set some spirits soaring but real-life concerns such as money and a more safety-conscious NASA could keep it firmly on the ground.

Bush is expected to propose next week a plan to work toward a permanent American presence on the moon and an eventual manned mission to Mars, officials and congressional aides said on Thursday.

It would be a huge boost to U.S. space exploration after the morale-sapping Columbia space shuttle disaster last year. But some politicians and space experts wondered whether it was mostly about the November presidential election.

A senior Senate Republican aide said the plan gives Bush a "big bold idea" to run on for re-election. But would the Republican-led Congress fund it?

"Unlikely," said the aide, asking not to be identified by name. "But the president doesn't have to get this through Congress this year. He just needs to put it on the table as part of the agenda for his second term."

"The president is now looking for centrist supporters who may be enthralled by big ideas. This has much less to do about legislative reality on Capitol Hill this year than it has to do with political reality in 2004," he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to give details ahead of next week's announcement. But, without revealing a price tag, he said the cost had been reviewed in the context of the federal budget for fiscal 2005, to be submitted to Congress on Feb. 2.

Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean looked quickly to the bottom line.

"I'm very much in favor of space exploration," Dean said. "Where is the tax increase to pay for it? We already have a half-a-trillion-dollar deficit. It is not worth bankrupting the country if that's what's going to happen. This president needs to be serious about the budget deficit."

Even if the funds appear -- and the big money could be called for after Bush ends the second term he seeks -- the technical hurdles are considerable.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Bush's vision includes abandoning winged space planes such as the space shuttle in favor of an updated version of the old Apollo capsule that served NASA in the 1960s and 1970s, congressional sources told Reuters.

"There's been a lot of support for the capsule design in the astronaut office," astronaut-commander Scott Altman recently told Reuters. "It's a safer design."

But getting to the moon again, much less landing there, will not necessarily be easier for having done it nine times between 1968 and 1972, space experts say.

The United States no longer has a rocket powerful enough to launch an Apollo-style moon mission. And although the Saturn 5 moon rocket was developed in just five years, it was dropped from production three years after Neil Armstrong's first moon landing in 1969.

The reality is that a rocket like the Saturn 5 is too powerful and too expensive to build for ordinary commercial and military satellites.

The most powerful rocket in the U.S. arsenal today, the Boeing Delta 4-Heavy, could put about 12 tonnes into lunar orbit, a Boeing Co. spokesman said, less than half the lift needed for a human moon mission. That could mean multiple launches for each mission, increasing the risk of failure.

Safety is generally an impediment to progress in space flight, and seat-of-the-pants flying was more acceptable in Cold War space-race days. Today, NASA does not like surprises. Its response after both the 1986 Challenger disaster and last year's Columbia accident was to limit the conditions and opportunities for lift-off.

"I'm not sure you could get the lunar module (of 1969) approved for flight today. The mission would probably be too risky," Milt Heflin, head of NASA's flight director's office, told Reuters.

Roger Handberg, author of "Reinventing NASA" and a public policy expert focused on space matters, argues the Bush administration is working from a position of weakness, convinced that projects like the shuttle program and the International Space Station have not delivered, but worried that pulling the plug would upset international notions of U.S. primacy.

"Bush is committed to space not because he cares but because he cannot afford to be seen as failing," Handberg told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Tom Ferraro and Caren Bohan in Washington, Patricia Wilson in Rochester, New Hampshire)

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I am a big fan of space exploration, and would live to see men on Mars. I don't think we can afford the Bush wars on Iraq and other places, his tax breaks, and a trip to Mars though. I think this is all election year posturing.

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Good way to get people to pick up and wave their flags some more and forget that we are little safer in homeland defense than we were 3 years ago.

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Good way to get people to pick up and wave their flags some more and forget that we are little safer in homeland defense than we were 3 years ago.

Exactly. Unless colonizing the moon and sending men to mars will help with that. I'm all for space exploration, but at this point in time we have many bigger issues that should be dealt with first. And with the nation's budget the way it is right now, this whole new space program parobably isn't a good idea.

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Well, the thing is, if it were an international endevour, it actually could go a ways towards building bridges with other countries, but I think that Bush is thinking of a rather America-centric plan. If/when we return to the moon we are going to need to do it internationally, with the Europeans, the Chinese, the Russians, the Japanese, perhaps India and Pakistan as well. Surely trying to get Pakistan in on it could go a long ways towards better ties between the West and the Muslim World. But I don't we'll see that kind of bridge building coming from Bush. This is all flag waving bull.

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Although I believe that spending this kind of money ona risk space operation is a little silly at this point when the budget doesn't really allow it, I do think there is some value on some front, and gotta call BS on another.

First of all, NASA has nothing to do with homeland security. And although we may spend money uselessly on NASA, with deficit spending that the Bush administrator obviously is willing to do, we're not exactly "taking" money from homeland security. Funding NASA does not impact homeland security.

I do think it's a resonable idea, because I believe Bush thinks that the country is somewhat falling behind it's lead in the world in some areas, including trips to space. I do agree that it would be a great way to extend relations with an up and coming country who has yet to develop any space program. Pakistan is a good suggestion, as would be Poland. This would make a lot of sense and bring a lot of value to it.

So it's it a bit early for this yes. Could it be better guided? Sure. Is everything Bush does a risk to homeland security. Not hardly.

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The Dept. of Homeland Security, and various necessary security measures are woefully underfunded. Diverting trillions of dollars to a manned Moon/Mars program won't help that problem.

That's just one program that is woefully underfunded by the feds.

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Has Bush even set aside any money for this? Chances are it's politics talking, with little action to back it up. I still don't see how this has taken any money from homeland security.

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I still don't see how this has taken any money from homeland security.

All the federal money comes out of the same pot. If part of that pot is allocated to Moon/Mars, then there is less in the pot for homeland security.

Israeli airlines have a missile defense system that costs about a million dollars a plane. Everyone in the US, from the airlines to the feds are crying poverty about putting this technology on US airliners. Creating a whole new space program will only further the feds claims of poverty when it comes to a program like this.

That's just homeland security, everything comes out of the same pot, education, transportation, healthcare... All underfunded currently, no tax increases and trillions going to a Moon/Mars mission means all these programs continue to be underfunded.

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Well in my eyes Bush is not the next Kenndy so don't look for any space centers named after him

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Well in my eyes Bush is not the next Kenndy so don't look for any space centers named after him

At least let's hope not! That would be like the growing movement to put Regan on the dime.

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but i'm for anything to do with space and i hope something good will come out of this like when we went to the moon we got all kinds of cool stuff like Tang (which is nasty IMO)

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I agree, tang is nasty, but how did Tang come from space explorations?

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I'd love a reinvigorated NASA with a new set of space programs.

But unless Bush is just doing this as a political ploy, which he is, he should raise taxes to pay for this.

Bush doesn't understand the concept that it takes taxes to pay for government programs and services. All he understands is deficit spending, pandering, and special interests.

Don't want more taxes? Don't start a new space program.

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Bush doesn't understand the concept that it takes taxes to pay for government programs and services. All he understands is deficit spending, pandering, and special interests.

Thank you! I was waiting for someone to say that! I totally agree. :)

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