The commission that will advise President Bush next month on how best to implement his new space exploration vision said Tuesday that sending astronauts to the moon and Mars is a glorious endeavor, but needs down-to-Earth justification to sustain public support.
“We have to start by asking a very fundamental question: Why are we bothering at all?” said Carly Fiorina, chairwoman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co. “Why are we thinking about going to moon, Mars and beyond when there are so many problems right here on Earth and so much budget pressure right here on Earth?”
Even though the president’s exploration initiative represents a mission of greatness, glory and scientific value and is inspiring, that’s not enough, Fiorina said during the commission’s final public hearing, held in New York.
“The pragmatist in all of us says, none of those rationales is sufficient,” said Fiorina, a commission member. “Although I believe them strongly, individually, I don’t believe they are sufficient to compel a broad-based, long-term bipartisan level of support.”
Fiorina said the most fundamental reason for sending robots and astronauts into the universe is, “If we don’t do it, someone will.” She cited China’s burgeoning space program, as well as that of Russia and India. The president’s initiative also will help preserve America’s technological leadership, currently threatened by the exodus of high-tech manufacturing jobs overseas, she said.
“We have to really help people make that connection,” she said.
10 recommendations planned
The chairman of the president’s moon-Mars commission, Edward “Pete” Aldridge, said he hopes to present about 10 major recommendations to Bush at the beginning of June.
The report will not go into the design for a moon or Mars ship, or outline the robotic missions that will be needed before human expeditions.
“That is the NASA job. Our job was to tell the president what he needed to do to implement this vision,” said Aldridge, a retired Defense Department official. Besides, he noted, “in 120 days, you can’t get too specific.”
Bush chose Aldridge to lead the commission in January, just as the president was announcing his plan to retire the space shuttle by 2010 and to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020 and ultimately on to Mars. The nine-member panel did not convene until February, and went on to hold public hearings across the country.
Appearing before the commission for the first time on Tuesday, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe said that, as much as some members of Congress would like, he cannot provide a price tag for the exploration initiative.
He said he does not know how much it will cost and acknowledged that could be part of NASA’s credibility problem, especially after the international space station overruns of recent years.
“That’s a more important approach that we have adopted, than trying to say, ’Well, what answer would you like?’” said O’Keefe, a former federal budget official. “There’s a fair amount of reputation-building that’s necessary.”
Aldridge and the other commissioners said they approve of NASA’s “pay-as-you-go” approach and noted the space agency’s overall budget in the near future will be roughly $15 billion to $17 billion a year, not only affordable but enough to accomplish all the short-term objectives of Bush’s plan.
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