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January 2004

To the Moon Alice! (And Mars!)

OK, lets try this again. The elder Bush did this, and it went absolutely nowhere. Time for another go. This Bush seems to have a tendency to try to finish his dad’s business….

Bush launches plan for moon-Mars quest
(Seth Borenstein & William Douglas, Philadelphia Inquirer)

President Bush set a soaring “new course for America’s space program” yesterday by proposing human exploration of the moon within a generation and of Mars sometime after that.

I actually think this is wonderful. I hope it does better than when the first Bush proposed something similar, and it just died. The fact that we have now gone about 30 years since the last time we were on the moon in inexcuseable. There has been an extreme slowing of our progress. It is time to get back on track.

There are a couple things that keep getting said that annoy me when I hear them.

The first is that any manned exploration is a waste of time, money and resources and it is much better to just use robots cause they can do more and better science for less money and less risk. I think this completely and totally misses the point. Even if it is true, which is somewhat debateable, this is not about the science. This is about manifest destiny and the human desire to explore and experience new things, and to achieve new things that have not been done before, and to meet new challenges. The science is a side effect. A great side effect, but a side effect none the less, not the primary goal.

Second is that we are better off spending the money at home. There is a need to be financially responsible, absolutely. The deficits are out of control and need to be balanced. I don’t believe in spending money that is not paid for. But, having said that, within the context of a properly balanced budget, things like this need to have their place, and even the large amounts needed for something like this are small compared to many other budget items, and this kind of thing needs to be included. And, even in addition to the straight “we should do this because it is good to do in and of itself” factor, this kind of effort often leads to many spin off technologies that end up helping society at large. And if it properly captivates the public imagination it can lead others who are not directly involved to become interested and educated in scientific and technological fields, which in turn leads to even more innovation. There is plenty of benefit.

Anyway, good job Mr. Bush. At least there are a couple things you can get right it seems. Of course, we’ll see if anything actually HAPPENS, or if it is just a bunch of words.

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