I still can’t believe W’s plan for space exploration. He says returning to the moon, setting up a permanent base there and a mission to Mars can all be done for relatively little money, $12 billion over the next five years and $170 billion by 2020. On top of the low-ball cost estimate (in 1989, NASA gave daddy Bush an estimate of $500 billion for something similar), W justifies the exercise on some fuzzy possibilities: "We may discover resources on the moon or Mars that will boggle the imagination, that will test our limits to dream." And then comes the really scary part:
Officials said the lunar and Mars program will have a military component, noting that the Pentagon will be consulted and may help with launches. Republican officials said conservative lawmakers who might balk at the cost are likely to be lured by the chance to extend the U.S. military supremacy in space when China is pursuing lunar probes and Russia is considering a Mars mission.
The bottom line is that kind of money could fund some major scientific research in any number of areas that will have far more impact on humans here on Earth than the manned space missions W has planned. Part of the money should also be spent on improving science education in this country so that a majority of adults don’t consider "astrology" a science and alien visits to be fact (read Carl Sagan’s last book The Demon-Haunted World for more examples of popular scientific stupidity). I’m not against space exploration – robots like the Mars Rover are doing an incredible job for much less money – but this proposal just smells far more like politics than science.