Geo016 - Exploration of Mars

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Geo016 / Exploration of Mars / (M) 3:00-5:20 / Lincoln Field 105 / Prof. James Head

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James Kytta (05/05/04)

The president's space initiative has many peculiarities that cause one to wonder how much is really meant to be science, and how much of it is politics. At first glance it would seem entirely political, but one must look at the deeper underlying motivations, as Monday's class proved. The further discussions that we partake in next Monday will hopefully shed more light onto this subject.

The opposition that Bush's proposal is facing in the budget appropriations committees is not unsurprising. Looking at Bush's history, we see a long record of initiatives made official but not supported financially when it becomes necessary. The fact that the current opposition to the proposal is bipartisan is even more damning to it. Rep. John Walsh's assertion that “(he) cannot commit this Congress and future Congresses to a program that is undefined” sums up the reality of the situation. Many of the ends have, in fact, been named, but it is the means that leave much in a gray area. It seems that a highly driven person leading this program could get the support of Congress, but also decrease the expected costs without sacrificing safety by defining the goals to the letter, and cutting out all the slack not needed to achieve these. That's not saying that the whole of NASA should devote its resources to the Mars initiative, but instead that only what is necessary should be used for a Mars mission, and the belt should be tightened all around. Money could be saved this way in all governmental agencies for that matter. This is a downfall of bureaucracy.

The Times article written by Dennis Overbye presents me with some worries as to whether or not we are really getting the most science we can for our money. Overbye outlines delays in the beyond Einstein missions, a $1.2 billion (of $4.5) cut in the Earth-Sun interaction study, a $1 billion cut from the earth science budget that studies (in part) global warming, and the up in the air possibility of abandoning the Hubble telescope. I see all of these programs as important and interesting science and I don't feel that a manned exploration to Mars is worth sacrificing the knowledge we may gain from these missions. I agree that it would exciting to put a man on Mars, but I still am failing to see what drastic benefits over automated exploration we will reap to justify the drastic increase in spending. In effect, we are getting less science/knowledge for more money.

As Bush's plan plays out over the next few months (possibly years), we will see just how logical these moves in NASA were, and how effective the money allotted to various projects proves to be. Spending on a program doomed from the beginning is just the same as burning it, so I hope NASA shows reservation in spending extravagance until some of the politics play out and the true direction of NASA over the next few years is seen.
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