Jan 282004
 
Authors: Erin Skarda

When President Bush announced his new vision for NASA’s space

exploration program on Jan. 14, many questions arose concerning the

expenses, safety and technology necessary to put the plan into

effect.

In his speech, Bush outlined a plan for human and robotic space

exploration based on a variety of goals. First, the president said

NASA will complete its work on the International Space Station by

2010. Through this, researchers will be able to better understand

and overcome the effects of human space flight on astronauts.

Next, the United States will begin developing a new spacecraft

called the Crew Exploration Vehicle. This will be capable of

transporting astronauts and scientists to the Moon as early as

2015, with the goal of working there for an extended period of

time.

Lastly, astronauts will use the experience and knowledge gained

on the Moon as a foundation for human missions beyond, beginning

with Mars.

But how probable is this plan?

Roger Culver, an astronomy professor, said that depending on the

time, money and effort the government is willing to put forth, the

plan is probable, but it will take awhile to put into effect.

“(Bush) is emphasizing sending humans to the Moon and eventually

to Mars,” Culver said. “A Mars mission could take two or three

years. During that time you would have to create a reliable

life-support system for the astronauts, which could certainly take

five to 10 years. This plan will likely develop in a slow

fashion.”

Money is also a big issue in this plan. According to NASA

administrators, the proposed budget for 2005 will be $16.2 billion,

which is a 5.6 percent increase from this year’s budget. In future

years, the budget increases will be smaller.

These increases will add up to roughly $1 billion over the next

five years. On top of this, $11 billion will be reallocated from

other NASA programs, giving a total of $12 billion to the space

exploration program.

Channeling money from other NASA programs, including scrapping a

plan for a service call to the Hubble Space Telescope, have also

raised some concerns. Robert Lawrence, a political science

professor, said this proposal is definitely controversial.

“One point suggests with the NASA budget that some programs will

be cut and reduced,” Lawrence said. “This is their way to rearrange

priorities without asking for more money.”

Jonathon Vigh, a graduate student studying atmospheric sciences,

said that the cuts in other programs should cause alarm.

“It really concerns me that the proposal reallocates NASA’s

budget toward the Mars mission,” Vigh said. “NASA’s priority should

be to focus on Earth. We’ve learned so much from the unmanned

missions without spending the money on new engineering and risking

humans in space. In my opinion, we’re not getting much for the

money.”

Ron Phillips, an economic professor, said the president would

have to borrow money from future taxpayers to get the funding for

this program.

“This plan is economically feasible, but there’s only a limited

amount of money,” Phillips said. “This may require reductions in

other programs and cuts elsewhere. Also the economic debt will be a

problem to face in the future.”

With the upcoming election and the reconstruction of Iraq, some

people have been questioning Bush’s motives.

“This proposal is either bold or silly. It’s hard to fathom the

motivations,” Lawrence said, “Some people suggest that this is a

way to divert attention from the situation in Iraq or prove that

the U.S. is a superpower. I have no idea if that’s the intent.”

Although some people think that continuing exploration of space

is a good idea, others think that there are much greater issues to

be concerned with.

Dena Sturgeon, a senior social work major, said there are many

other programs that could use the money.

“It’s an interesting concept, maybe eventually when the economy

is better,” Sturgeon said, “I don’t think it should be a priority.

Pick a program, we need money in lots of other areas.”

Opportunity, the new rover that recently sent new pictures from

Mars, could also affect this plan.

“The rovers will answer some questions and raise more,” Culver

said, “We’ve only been able to explore a few dozen yards of Mars.

There are many more interesting places to land.”

Lawrence agreed.

“This idea hasn’t caught fire yet,” Lawrence said, “If one rover

finds evidence of water or some micro-organism, the public interest

could be rekindled. However, the interest will fall if nothing is

found.”

The proposal’s outcome is still in question.

“I don’t know if this will go into effect,” Culver said. “It

depends on the politics of the situation. It’ll definitely be

interesting to see how this unfolds.”

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