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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Paul Berry (05/05/04)

The President's Space Initiative is a bold move, some say politically motivated, towards reinstituting America as the forefront leader in outer atmosphere space exploration. Not unlike his father, who also proposed a mission to Mars, nor Presidents Regan and Kennedy before him, President H.W Bush is proposing space related missions to be performed by men that will have huge implications socially, financially, and psychologically upon the American people. Although the Space Initiative has not stirred up much public support for the President, as evident in current popularity polls, it still represents a goal to be fulfilled in the distant future, some of which President Bush hopes to be a part of.

The current NASA budget eats up less than 1% of the federal budget, which may not seem like much, but is in the range of six billion dollars. While asking for more money, (approximately $844 million more) any bonehead can deduce that this is insufficient to complete the goals of the President's Space Initiative. I say this because not of the program that will take astronauts to Mars, but of this and the combined steps that we must take in order to get there. The President's plans include phasing out the shuttle fleet, abandoning both Hubble and the ISS, and creating a new form of space vehicle that will take astronauts to Mars, not to mention his optional creation of a lunar base that could be used to forward supplies and materials to Mars. The tremendous costs of all these goals will most definitely costs taxpayers hundreds of billions, and will require the full support of congress. I refer to the two expert opinions of Captain John Young and Commander Dave Scott, who both said (one reluctantly and one quite enthusiastically) that under the current budget a mission to Mars would be impossible. Somebody up there is listening too, as as much as a 5.6% increase in budget funding, a very large step up from current allocations, is being proposed.

The politics behind the allocation and the current budget are very tricking, as the budget itself is an idea not readily grasped by all, and certainly one mastered by few. Congress is facing huge deficits in the federal budget, and while fighting a war, distracted by the sentiments of such war at home, and operating in an election year, I think that President Bush's decision to announce the Space Initiative will be both disastrous and advantageous for his career. Unfortunately one will have to weigh out the other, and I think it will be the former of those two choices. First the good news though. The war in Iraq is not exactly the most popular subject in politics, and without doubt a hot issue among the general public. President Bush may be using Mars as a diversionary tactic, a point brought up and agreed upon by many members in class on Monday. This impression has some merit, as eluding people's ill thoughts of a war here on earth with those of lunar bases, Martian rocks, and scientific advancement that can benefit all is a very appealing idea, and one that I am very susceptible to as a science oriented person. His proposal to amend that constitution for a ban on gay marriages can also fall under this umbrella of diversion I believe. Now for the bad news. Bush, in a brilliant, and usually underrated political move, has slowly been making a number of decisions in the past few months that reflect a more liberal characteristic, and one uncharacteristic of him. Obviously someone in his election staff has been noticing not only past election results but also the current polls here, as conservative dogs bark at the President's slow but definite attempt at drawing support from the liberal side of the congress. The swing votes always make the difference in an election, especially the presidential elections. Presidential nominee Kerry and incumbent President Bush are neck and neck in the polls, and a mission to Mars, as well as a perceived softer side to science in general (or so it seems, as “science” is being cut out of the picture officially under his Space Initiative) may help those concerned with education who are swing votes into checking republican in November. However, there is a darker side to this political move, and the mission to Mars in general that may cut President Bush's legs out from under him. By angering the very conservative right, President Bush runs the risk of killing any support for his Space Initiative in congress, which will not only crush my personal hopes of going to Mars, along with many other avid scientists who wish to study the Red Planet more in depth, but also make the President look like he is not only out of touch with his congress, which is mostly republican, but also as an irresponsible financial and political leader. If the people of America, a majority of which as I stated before know little or nothing about the budget, including myself, hear that congress has said “No Mr. President, a mission to Mars is fiscally irresponsible” the people will follow their elected officials, as they tend to do. The democrats in congress will for the most part, if not in whole, attempt to kill any of Bush's ideas, especially as we near election time. So as democrats from the left attack his ideas, conservatives from the right, President Bush must make a decision now, and must make many decisions on every issue he can and go forward with them, so as to show the American people that although a mission to Mars may be a flop, and wars and amendments may be too, that he can still lead from the Oval office.

I have always thought of NASA as a bargain shopper. They go out and buy things they thought they could use, but got mostly junk. NASA was an impulsive reaction to the action of the Russians and our own inaction at the same time. It was created out of fear of being left behind technologically and out of space physically. NASA funds (buys) things from time to time that prove to be impulsive, for instance the Mars rover that failed because of a metric to British units conversion error. However, NASA has matured greatly since its inception, but is growing to a point where age is becoming a factor. Since the Presidential Space Initiative, reorganization and planning for a mission to Mars has begun, and the go-ahead from congress has not even been authorized. Nevertheless, those leading NASA, including Mr. O'Keefe, have surely recognized that NASA needs new life and new fuel to propel it into the next century. If people become too disillusioned, there may come a point when the Baby Boomers do forget, and their children lose interest in space travel. This is exactly the reason why this particular impulsive decision to form NASA as part of the Space Act might hurt NASA today in that it didn't think of the long run. However, bringing Mars into the picture now may be NASA's saving grace. This might be the only good to come out of President Bush's Space Initiative, even if it does fail in congress, in that NASA is given something to look forward to eventually, as the Red Planet will see humans some day, if not as soon as we like, then most definitely later.
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