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Your feedback on Bush's space initiative

Cosmic Log readers respond to President Bush's plan to send humans back to the moon, then on to other worlds.
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Hundreds of Cosmic Log readers responded to President Bush's space initiative, which calls for the retirement of the space shuttle fleet by 2010, the development of a new spaceship called the "crew exploration vehicle," the resumption of manned lunar landings by 2020, and the establishment of a long-term lunar base that would serve as a foothold for further exploration.

Here is a sampling of the feedback:

Webb Deneys:  I'm glad my son will grow up in a time when America will once again have people doing more ambitious and inspirational things than being satellite repair men and all-round Fed Ex guys!

Greg: I applaud the president's program; however, the timing could not come at a worse time as far as our economic situation right here, on Earth, in the United States. I say, "Create real jobs first before launching a Trekkie mentality toward the American people.” Help Americans first, make our lives more important. Then, with serious forethought, start the space race again.

Brian Amos: Many probably object to increased spending on space exploration, arguing that the money is needed on Earth for social causes. Had we listened to this segment of the population when Kennedy proposed the Apollo flight to the moon, we never would have gotten off the ground.

We definitely need to explore ways to have a permanent presence in space. The moon is a logical choice in my opinion. I agree with the ideas laid out in the article, but there are more. It is very true that we owe a great deal of the technology we currently take for granted to the efforts of the space program. However, this was done almost entirely through government programs and taxpayer dollars.

The future of space requires privatization and the creation of totally new industries that provide incentives for business. Companies are not going to stick their necks out until space travel is more affordable and there is reliable access. The space station is ambitious but will only result in limited space for new industries, and it does not look like it will open up the flow of private investment, like permanent moon bases could.

Growth is painful, even if the economy was doing great. We can't shrivel up and try to just get by, hoping the economy will turn around. We need new frontiers to open up. We need to expand the economy of the world. New frontiers will never open up without taking tremendous risks. Our country is losing the fight for cheap production and resources to the Third World. Space exploration and development would allow our industries to excel by using our highly educated population and high-tech industries. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will become, and I think space exploration is our destiny.

Douglas:  Finally, an objective for NASA to focus on. President Bush's directive gives NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe the authority to wield the ol' fiscal chainsaw and cut loose the dozens of programs and fiefdoms that robbed NASA of its clarity of purpose for the past decade.  These start-but-not-finish projects have led to shelves of drawings and buildings full of bits and pieces of space hardware worth only the value of their applicability to the new objective of going back to the moon in 2015.  By defining a specific goal and timeline President Bush has placed a sense of urgency and purpose on NASA.  Now O'Keefe and NASA have to deliver.

Colleen Newson, age 49, Pembroke Pines, Fla.: Prior to this announcement, I was undecided at best. I've long been an advocate of scrapping the shuttle and space station programs in favor of developing a moon base. To hell with the cost — for 30 years we've spent comparatively very little on the orbital programs and comparatively next to nothing on exploration. During that time, we did not harness the national debt, nor end poverty in America with all of that "extra money" not spent on space — so it's ludicrous to believe that we'd magically start doing so now. Many, many Americans need and want this, we need to look outward and stop being so focused on our own problems and those of the other inhabitants of our messy little planet. As proof of this interest, I offer that you needn't look any further than the NASA/JPL Web site, where everyday people like myself are so hungry for every available image from the Mars rover Spirit that we're downloading them en masse, by the terabyte.

Richard Von der Porten: More important than a lunar base would be a permanent self-supporting orbiting space station at the Lagrange point (the location in space where Earth's gravitational pull and the moon’s gravitational pull are equal).  This would be the ideal jump-off point for a future Martian mission, and because it would be physically closer to the moon, an excellent point for lunar colonists to "escape" to should the moon's gravity attract any large space debris that could endanger Lunar colonists.  From a military point of view, it provides the ultimate "hilltop" platform from which to view the Earth.

Richard:  I keep reading the same comment in every story about this plan:  "the moon has one-sixth the gravity of Earth so crafts could be launched from the moon with less fuel".

But how are those crafts going to get to the moon???

They'll have to be launched first from Earth!  Therefore, launching them again from the moon doesn't save any fuel, it takes more!

You might say, "Well, once the crafts are on the moon they can be relaunched again and again, and then realize fuel savings." 

But that's crazy!  That would involve incredible amounts of maintenance and repair work on the moon.  It takes several months, here on safe and comfortable Earth, to get a shuttle ready to lift off.  Can you imagine if the NASA people were doing that work in space suits?  In a dangerous environment?  On the freaking moon?

The last time we were there, the astronauts had a hard time picking up rocks and taking pictures. 

I could be wrong.  I'm no scientist - far from it.  But this just sounds to me to be the most expensive and dangerous way to get to Mars. 

Blanche:  Why do we need to go back to the moon?  Why do we need to go to Mars?

Perhaps there's oil out there?  Are we looking for another planet to corrupt and deplete whatever resources it may have?  All those millions of dollars shot out into space. ... Meanwhile, back here on Earth, the United States is beginning to resemble the situation before the fall of the Roman Empire!  Why does no one want to address the horrific drug problem in this country? The violence on city streets has become so common that we are completely desensitized to murder on a daily basis in every major city.  Children are not safe in playgrounds anymore!  The quality of education in public schools has gone down the toilet!

Children are being abused and neglected because drugs have become the main focus of their parent's lives!  A person can't stand at a bus stop half of the time without worrying about getting caught in some crossfire between gangs!  This isn't the Old West!  Why aren't these issues being targeted?  Instead all of this manpower and money is being directed at getting to Mars??? For what???  I know of at least 10 crack houses within a three-block radius of my home.  (One is three doors away from the Catholic school I pay a small fortune for my granddaughters to attend.) If I know about it, so do the authorities, and yet nothing happens to these scumbags.  But millions of dollars must be spent so that "we" can get to Mars. ... What's wrong with this picture?

Nathan Hadlock, Camp Casey:  This is an excellent goal to accomplish! The money we spend now on these projects will go a long way in the development of our solar system. The benefits of exploration, colonization, and raw materials that the moon and Mars have, will have benefits beyond anything we have done before. It is the human dream to explore the galaxy, to search out the unknown. Certainly our entertainment media know this. The United States and the global community need to reach out and make our first little step outside the "Earth gate" into a new era of human exploration. Let’s continue what we started in the 1960s! Explore the cosmos – pictures are one thing, but boots on the ground are another!

P.I. Edic, Akron, Ohio:  As I said in a recent message to President Bush, I've been waiting 68 years for this news!  However, it looks as though I won't be alive till 2030 to see it happen. Very disappointing...

If I'm lucky, perhaps I'll see us in a permanent base on the moon.

In the meantime, I guess I'll have to depend on science fiction to titillate the imagination!

Mike: I have been waiting for an initiative such as this to be proposed for at least a decade, and I’ve only been alive for 16 years!  As Bush said, humanity has always been enthralled with the prospect of exploration and discovery, a “hobby” that recently we have been unable to satisfy.  We need to explore a new frontier; it is obvious that the only one left is that unfathomably vast black ocean right above our heads.

The only problem with his plan is that the funding is relatively low (in the scheme of things, $1 billion isn't going to get us anywhere).  As for the argument about "we need to deal with the issues here on Earth first," all I have to say is that hundreds of items you use today started there infancies in NASA laboratories.  We will see huge impacts of NASA research in the future, particularly the robotic systems Bush is pushing them to develop.

Don Sherrill, Captain, U.S. Navy Reserve, retired: It's about damn time! We wasted 35 years. Who knows where we would be now if we hadn't rinsed our hands of space after we "beat" the soviets to the moon!

Nick: We should definitely go back to the moon, then to Mars, and that's only the beginning. But this 15-year timetable — which we probably won't even meet — is very slow.

I believe that in conjunction with these wonderful, bold new initiatives, we should also allocate $10 billion over the next 10 years toward building a space elevator tether out of carbon nanotubes and some type of binding matrix.

We also need to build and flight test the VASIMR rocket. Even an ion drive would be fine, but whatever it is, it should be powered by an onboard 10-megawatt nuclear reactor.

Also we can accelerate the progress on a moon base or even a space station by making inflatable hardening habitats.  Basically, you take a binary agent, two liquids like epoxy resin. When combined, they expand, and after they set, they become rigid.  The habitats for the moon or in orbit could be made out of a thin fabric like Mylar, then it could be inflated with the binary compound and then after it expands and sets, presto, instant space station or moon base.  Of course, the base or station would need to have some kind of radiation shielding bolted to the outside and hatches, and windows would need to be installed, but in theory this is a real fast way to make a habitat. You can also check out my personal plan for space colonization.

Finally, we need to open up space to the private sector — that will help pay the bills and drive progress much faster.  Burt Rutan is on the right track.

Beau Johnston: Why spend billions of dollars exploring the moon, Mars and space when we have not even explored but a fraction of our oceans and polar regions.  New species of wildlife are still being discovered every day.  Why "give up" exploring Earth? Does space look more inviting?   If it is for colonization, why not put a group of people down in the bottom of the ocean?

Mike: Nice idea, this moon thing. 

But my kids are in "portable" trailers because there's no room in the school building (despite the fact that it's a relatively new school).

So one has to ask oneself – isn't it a bit ridiculous to shoot for the moon, when we can't even take aim at much more important things on the earth? (Like, let's see, our children's schools, maybe...?)

I'd love for us to go to the moon.  I'd also love to have a Mercedes.  But, unlike our administration, I seem to be able to distinguish between what's critical and what "would be cool."

As a plan, it's wasteful.  And as a re-election ploy, it's transparent.

Scott: If we wait until 2015 to build our steppingstones to Mars … the Japanese and other countries will have already quartered and sectioned Mars’ and Jupiter’s moons. If money is a problem, we should set up a moon and Mars charity fund. I would be more willing to donate to that than any other charity, with the exception of my local church. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m just a car salesman in south Texas, but I watch the science and discovery channels whenever I can catch documentaries about space. From what I understand, the technology is there. We just need the money. If there is such a charity, let me know.

H. Schmidt, Fargo, N.D.: This is an idea that will die a bad death. Hopefully, it will not kill NASA and the U.S. space program before the paper it's written on gets recycled. Going to the moon and especially Mars is not realistic, considering how unrealistically the budgeting seems to have been thought out.

A few extra billion dollars in NASA's budget won't put a base on the moon. Moving $12 billion a year from other NASA programs will probably kill useful research elsewhere. Also, none of the important questions about long-term spaceflight have been answered yet. How do we protect astronauts from hard radiation long-term? How do we prevent the loss of calcium from bones? Are there some cheap solutions to these and myriad other physiological and engineering problems Mr. Bush cares to share with the rest of the world?

What's more, we're already running ungodly national budget deficits. As wonderful as the ultimate goal looks to me personally, I can't see beggaring my children and future generations by putting the hundreds of billions of dollars this would actually cost on the national credit card.

You’d think we would have learned our lesson after pouring the cash we did 20 years ago into the black hole that was Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense system initiative.

Having a real foothold in space won't come cheap. Unfortunately, election-year rhetoric is.

Raymond Takashi Swenson, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force (retired): President Bush realizes that China clearly has the goal of dominating outer space in the next century. As its population becomes more educated and its economy develops and becomes wealthier, it will have the economic and technological base to use space as an economic and military resource. The free nations of the Earth cannot let a dictatorship that devalues human life and freedoms acquire control of the high ground over all other nations. Outer space has tremendous resources of energy, physical resources, and scientific information.

Another threat that we must be prepared to avert is the kind of massive natural disaster that we witnessed in 1997 when Comet Shoemaker-Levy crashed into Jupiter, created Earth-size explosions that, had they occurred here instead, would have ended civilization. While the dinosaur killer 65 millions years ago caused massive devastation, it is even more likely that Earth could be struck in the next century by a comet like the one that fell over Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908, flattening hundreds of square miles of forest. A hit like that near New York would kill tens of millions of people and throw the U.S. economy into a tailspin. It would have effects comparable to a major war like World War II.

Compared to the loss of trillions of dollars in homes, offices, factories, airports, ship ports and all the people and goods that occupy them, the cost of creating a capable and flexible space transportation system that could intercept and divert or destroy such a comet would be very small, and it would have the certainty of producing new goods and services apart from that safety that would pay dividends. Since those dividends won't be fully obtained in five or even 10 years, it is not something that business investors will be attracted to until close to its payoff. Yet the value for America and the rest of mankind makes it worthwhile for government to invest in it. The cost of such programs is far less than what we spend on amusements, like professional sports, and recreational foods, like ice cream. Just as the creation of the Interstate Highway System was a massive investment, having real sustainable space travel in the space between Earth and the moon will create unlimited benefits for mankind.

It was all well and good for the Moon Treaty to declare that no nation could claim ownership of the moon, back in the 1960s when there was no prospect of economic exploitation or colonization. However, there needs to be a Homesteading Amendment made so that there will be an incentive for governments and private companies to invest in creating mines and factories and habitats on the moon and other planets, asteroids and satellites in the solar system. The moons of Jupiter have massive amounts of free methane and water ice, resources that can be used to make rocket fuel and replenish basic life-sustaining habitats in space. Since there is no reason to expect that any of these objects are inhabited by life, let alone intelligence, there is no "ecosystem" and thus no "environment" to be harmed. Industrial activities can be undertaken on those worlds that would need to be tightly regulated on Earth to prevent pollution of our air and water. Once economical spaceships are built by NASA, the contract manufacturers can offer the same designs to private industry.

So outer space can be used to guard the Earth, to decrease sources of polluting mining and industrial activity on Earth's surface, to provide energy to the Earth, to obtain knowledge about nature through exploration and high-energy experiments that we could not perform on the Earth. In the beginning stages, NASA should be enabled to realize income from the information it generates. Once the most basic needs are met, it would make sense to make the spaceships large enough that people with lots of money, who are in reasonable health, can pay for rides to orbit, the moon and Mars. A pool of news organizations like NBC could pay to send a correspondent out to collect human interest news and sell it with advertising as it always does.

NASA could offer a limited free feed of data, and provide 3-D high-definition views of Earth from orbit and the moon, and of the surface of Mars, for a fee, such as through a subscription TV channel. Devoting a rover and a small crew (qualified both technically and photogenically) to visiting Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris (and setting up stationary remote-controlled cameras) would give a vicarious, you-are-there experience that could be shared by people with a live chat line among friends and lovers. Near-future information appliances would let viewers get detailed information from NASA, or even converse with an artificial intelligence that can respond in clever conversation to inquiries. You could have a choice of background music, or hear the actual sounds of the wind on Mars. When lighting does not allow live broadcast, it could be recorded and rebroadcast.

As the Earth turns, revenue would come in from Japan and Australia, then India and Saudi Arabia, Russia and Poland, Italy and Britain, Brazil and Argentina, and the USA and Mexico. It would become wallpaper for rooms (with cheaper flat-panel TVs) and for the lobbies of public buildings and the boardrooms of major corporations. A small additional fee and random selection would let people ask questions of the Mars team, to be answered after the next shift (due to time delays).

T.K., San Francisco: All the hoopla with respect to humanity's return to the moon and eventual landing on Mars ignores several very important facts:

  • Our most recent attempts at building spacecraft have been less than spectacular.  We can't even get in and out of low Earth orbit without losing people and equipment.  Also, the international space station was supposed to be the "learning platform" for prolonged spaceflight.  Well, even that is leaking oxygen.  Any mission to Mars, or even the moon, should be preceded by the development of a generation of spacecraft that launch into deep space, re-enter Earth's atmosphere, land, refuel, and launch again with a turnaround time measured in days, not months. We need to learn to walk before we run.  The Apollo program was a crude venture, born of a political rivalry with an ideological competitor that no longer exists. Three men strapped in a little metal cone is what we hurled at the moon with the giant Saturn V launch vehicle, a vehicle which still has not been surpassed in power by any other rocket built.  What kind of mammoth Roman candle are we going to build to get all the necessary large pieces of machinery to the moon required for a Mars mission?
  • The lowest-hanging fruit have been picked from the "technology spin-off" tree.  Component miniaturization, computer technology (with the subsequent digitization of everything) and even fuel cells are now in the hands of private industry and the public at large.  Future spin-offs will probably be less spectacular than in the past.
  • We have heard justifications for enterprises in space before: growing crystals or manufacturing perfectly round bearings in zero-gravity and so on.  They have not panned out because of cost.  As long as we do not have a means of launching supplies cheaply (never mind humans), any space-based manufacturing enterprise is doomed to failure.   Satellites are an exception, and that is only because of large government subsidies which keep the infrastructure for building rocket motors, launch facilities and tracking facilities alive.  If private enterprise had to shoulder these expenses entirely (as would be the case in a true "free enterprise" system), there would be a considerably smaller amount of space junk orbiting the earth, and a lot less people running around with GPS systems.
  • There are no strategic resources in space.  Helium-3 found on the moon is a radioactive pipe dream.  Mining it and sending it back to earth would be prohibitive in cost.  Setting up giant solar farms for collecting electricity could be more easily in the deserts on Earth.  The reduction in efficiency due to the atmosphere's interference would be more than offset by the lower cost of building and maintaining the structures in an environment which would not require extraordinary life support systems for the operators.  Even more important, an Earth-based system could be built now, versus having to wait for the technology of various launch systems to catch up. The only strategic resource that space offers is the one that the Defense Department covets, the high ground.

Cut NASA's budget in half and redirect the funds to a program that would make the USA energy-independent using renewable resources by 2013. Now that is a goal worth pursuing, Mr. President, although your oil buddies would probably disagree...

Joe Piccione, Tulsa, Okla.: The explorations of the past (Columbus, Cortez, Magellan, etc.) were funded in large part by venture capitalists.  These investors risked their fortunes after being "guaranteed" various monopolies and other "rights" by their governments.  It produced a time of vigorous exploration and resulted in many unexpected and long-lasting rewards.  I believe that the administration should encourage private enterprise to do the same thing in space, the latest "frontier," rather than to appeal to other governments for cooperation.  As in the past, when "gold is discovered in them thar (lunar and Martian) hills," other countries will hop on the bandwagon without need for prompting by us.

Phil Golden, Mukwonago, Wis.: I am a Republican and support most of Bush's policies. Going back to the moon and Mars is an interesting goal; however, there are other issues in the world that are far more pressing. It all comes down to priorities. As long as kids go to school hungry, senior citizens turn off their heat so they can afford prescription drugs, and factories are closed in the U.S. and moved overseas ... there are far pressing issues to be tackled. Pursuing interplanetary expeditions is mental masturbation.  After all is said and done, what have you gained?  But it sure felt good at the time, didn't it? I heard that the numbers could be $400 billion plus to pursue this endeavor. Think what that could do for us here on Earth if it were applied to the average citizen instead of, say, Rockwell International?  It is all about priorities ... and politics, I suppose.

Dan Snead: Let's roll!

Gregg: This is the biggest waste of taxpayer money I've ever heard of.

Barry: $1 billion could be used in a better way than to send us back to a dead rock, in order to get us to another dead rock, and beyond. Think of what that money would do for the poor in this country. Bad call, Mr. Bush.

Joe Ferguson: Gaining practical experience in extraterrestrial living by staging operations on the moon is invaluable for the ultimate move to the rest of the solar system. Mankind must take these steps in order to have any hope of passing the real test: exporting human DNA beyond the solar system.  Our star can support but one generation of life in the universe. If we are to pass our genes on to the next generation (indeed, if there is to be a next generation of our lineage) we must find a way enable our genetic code to escape the eventual demise of this star.

Mourning the Man in the Moon

On lovely summer nights
and chilly autumn eves,
when the wind blows cold
or spring beckons in the breeze,
we lift our face to you —
the lovely man in the moon.

But they are coming to change your face.
Experts say they will exploit
what lies beneath your melancholy smile,
turn it into "fusion fuel."

Such foolishness will leave you scarred, or worse,
a base to launch weapons at enemies on earth.

But rockets play well in an election year.
Does anyone else share my fear
that some night we will search the sky
but the man in the moon will be nowhere nigh?

— C.F.