Lonely Planet: Mars

January 16, 2004

Earlier this week, President Bush announced a plan to send astronauts to the Moon, then to Mars. NY Times: Bush Backs Goal of Flight to Moon

In the past 30 years, no human being has set foot on another world or ventured farther up into space than 386 miles, roughly the distance from Washington, D.C., to Boston, Massachusetts.

America has not developed a new vehicle to advance human exploration in space in nearly a quarter century.

It is time for America to take the next steps.

Full text of Bush's Speech

The Plan
Bush's plan is decidedly less ambitious than previous American space initiatives. Before a joint session of Congress in 1961,President Kennedy argued that the US "should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth." The Apollo program achieved that goal and landed men on the Moon in 1969. Bush, however, would send astronauts back to the Moon between 2015 and 2020. The new goal of landing astronauts on Mars may not be achieved for another 15 years at the minimum, but probably longer, because a mission to Mars would be launched from a yet to be established (or designed) permanent base on the Moon.

Space.com: Bush Plan FAQ

The Bush space initiative includes $1 billion in new funding to NASA over the next five years. Critics of space exploration believe that this is money better spent on funding social programs, economic development, education and public health.

On Tuesday, the Bush Administration discussed a plan to spend at least $1.5 billion to promote marriage. Prof. Michael Froomkin finds that Bush's Marriage Plan is Just Too Cheap. An underfunded election year plan to promote marriage is worth 50% more than five years of planning, research and development of science and technology? This is money that couldn't be better spent adequately funding public education or towards health insurance? Space exploration serves multiple goals: developing new technologies, learning more about the nature of the universe and satisfying our yearning to explore and our curiosity about the unknown. Rather than diverting money from public health, education or battling international terrorism, why not decrease our spending on unilateral wars of choice, tax cuts for the super-rich and corporate welfare for favored industries?

Bush does not, as I've implied, intend to send astronauts to the moon for $1 billion. Instead, $11 billion of other funding will come from within NASA's existing budget, which currently totals about $15 billion/year. The $11 billion in savings may come from keeping spending flat in current programs. Some of the $11 billion might also come from reclassifying current programs into the new initiative.

Will this be enough? The Apollo program cost an estimated $25.4 billion. Space.com estimates the current value of the cost of the Apollo program between $150 and $175 billion. In 1989, President Bush announced a plan that would send astronauts to Mars for $500 billion. History Offers Reasons to Be Cautious on Bush's Space Plan.

This appears to be another case of the Bush Administration announcing a laudable program, then failing to meet the program's stated goals by failing to adequately fund the program (see e.g. No Child Left Behind, Aid to Africa). However, as Bush stated, this vision "is a journey, not a race." So, the annual costs should be lower, because this spending will be spread out over a longer time.

Developing an ambitious new manned space flight program will divert resources from other NASA programs. NASA's new direction will be the End of an Era not just for the Space Shuttle, but also for the Hubble Spacce Telescope. After initial optics problem, the Hubble has provided astronomers with the obtained the deepest views into space to date. As critics of the manned space program point out, the unmanned space program provides useful data to astronomers at a fraction of the cost. A return to an ambitious manned space program under Bush's plan will cut funding from many of NASA's "better, cheaper, faster" unmanned programs. See also Space.com: Space Agency Reorganized to Handle Bush Plan

One way to develop a cheaper mission to Mars would be to make it a one way mission. Paul Davies makes such a proposal in the NYT Op-Ed page: Life (and Death) on Mars

International Cooperation
The obvious impetus for an ambitious new manned space program is China's successful manned space launch last year. This could either lead to a reinvigorated space race between the US, China, Russia and the EU or a new era of international cooperation for exploring the solar system. Wired News' Tony Long believes that the Bush plan is a revived version of manifest destiny to expand American hegemony to the moon. EU welcomes US space plans, but has concerns over the plan's effect on the ISS and other international space programs. India wants to join the US effort, presumably to stay on target with its regional rival, China.

Russia still has a large space program that makes up in expertise what it lacks in money. The AP report from Russia focuses on the possibilities for collaboration between Russia and the US, Bush's New Space Plan Excites Russia, while Agence France-Presse focuses on the possibilities for competition: After Bush speech, Russia mulls missions to Moon and Mars.

Why Mars?
The Morning News: The Non-Expert: All The President's Martians

Prof. Balkin: The Top Ten Reasons Why Bush Wants to Go to Mars

Get Your War On: At least it'd help me forget about the deficit

BBC: Bradbury excited by Mars effort

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Are we going to go to Mars? Heck ya, eventually.

But it's worth nothing that the senior President Bush also pushed for a Mars mission with a moon base... and that particular project died an ugly death after cost estimates started hitting the $400 billion mark.

Hm. $1 billion.... $400 billion... I think that there's a disconnect here.

Posted by: Frankenstein on January 16, 2004 06:53 PM

Of course the "too cheap" article was in jest, based on http://www.discourse.net/archives/2004/01/great_minds_think_alike_onion_replicates_my_modest_proposal_for_iraq.html .

Posted by: Michael Froomkin on January 17, 2004 12:45 AM

I don't think I'm going to find anyone seriously arguing that $1.5 BILLION is too little to spend on defending marriage. In fact, I hope I'm not going to find anyone seriously arguing that. I doubt that spending $1.5 billion on promoting marriage will lead to a substantial increase in the marriage rate. In fact, I doubt any amount of money poured into promoting marriage will have any measurable effect on the marriage rate. But to find a real analysis of the marriage proposal would require reading more about the details of the plan than I really want to know. I'm sure, however, that the marriage promotion plan will have its desired effects-- making Bush look good for the reactionaries in his base and funneling $1.5 billion of taxpayer money to Republican-friendly ad agencies.

More on the space plan: http://www.tnr.com/easterbrook.mhtml?pid=1166


Posted by: Andrew on January 19, 2004 07:02 PM