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Space: No Free Launch

2 minute read

In a ceremony commemorating the day 20 years ago when America’s Apollo astronauts first set foot on the moon, President Bush last week outlined his vision of America’s role in space.

The high points: a space station longer than a football field orbiting 220 miles above the earth; permanent living quarters on the near side of the moon constructed out of lunar metals and used as a base for mining oxygen-rich moon rocks; then, sometime during the 21st century, a manned mission to Mars, at least a yearlong, 35 million-mile voyage. “It is humanity’s destiny to strive, to seek and to find,” declared the President, “and America’s destiny to lead.”

Although inspired by the Apollo feat, Bush’s program differs sharply from John Kennedy’s proposal in 1961. Kennedy’s plan to put a man on the moon within the decade was well focused and lavishly financed. But Bush offered no price tag and no precise timetable for the “journey into tomorrow” that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Given the parlous state of NASA’s meager funding and morale nowadays, that journey could abort before it takes off. Some congressional Democrats wonder where the money will come from. Warned House majority leader Richard Gephardt, in a critique of Bush’s speech that reflected the view of many of his fellow Democrats: “There’s no such thing as a free launch.”

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