Saturday, January 17

Up Up and Away

This past week, President Bush dropped several policy bombshells. Perhaps the one that seems most out of the blue and has captured most of the public attention is a vow to "expand human presence across our Solar System." According to the President, "We will set a new course for America's space program; we will give NASA a new focus. We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe to gain a new foothold on the Moon and prepare for new journeys beyond Earth."

According to Rod Martin of Vanguard PAC, "For the cost of one-tenth of one B-2 bomber per year, the President has set in motion the most dramatic change in NASA's priorities since John F. Kennedy announced Apollo." Indeed he has. His plans call for a permanent Lunar colony, possibly as soon as 2015, followed by manned expeditions to Mars and beyond within a decade. And to accomplish all this, Bush proposes a new generation of state-of-the-art spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will take man to orbit, to the Moon, to Mars, and to anywhere else he might want to go; and an advanced nuclear rocket engine, already being designed under the name "Project Prometheus", which will cut the travel time from Earth to Mars from eight months down to two. Pretty breath taking stuff!

According to Martin, "It is certainly understandable why many people would fail to see the point. The Shuttle era was a dismal bureaucratic age of "U-Hauls to orbit," and even the Apollo program--unquestionably one of the greatest achievements of man--was more geopolitical arm wrestle than otherworldly exploration." But he argues that this new vision is far more significant that those old Cold War or crassly commercial enterprises. Indeed, he says, "Space is not merely a budget line-item or a money pit; space is a place. And it is a place in which much of the future of humanity could unfold."

Martin urges skeptics to take the longer vision. Think about space mining, about helium-3 fusion reactors, about zero and low gravity manufacturing, about, super-sensitive observatories, about drugs and medical procedures today unimagined, about the the world-covering quantities of water just discovered on Mars, or about the possible positive societal effects of having a new frontier. The technology is practically already here to do all this and more.

The only real question, according to Martin, is who will have the will to sieze the opportunity? "Will America colonize those new worlds, controlling the economic life of humanity to a degree today's Arabs can only dream of, or will we allow others to dominate us instead? Will Washington and Madison's children continue to lead in science, military power, and political dominance, or will it cede that to the socialists in Brussels, or even the totalitarians in Beijing?"

Fascinating notions to ponder. Fascinating times in which to live

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