Tags: Bush's | Space | Vision | and | America's | Future

Bush's Space Vision and America's Future

Sunday, 15 February 2004 12:00 AM

He hoped that after the election in November the situation might be improve, but until then the best that can be expected is that major damage to the project is avoided.

This will be pretty difficult since the 5 percent increase in NASA's budget stands in conspicuous contrast to the average 1 percent increases for most of the rest of the non-national security/non-entitlement spending accounts.

In early December of last year, The Heritage Foundation released a study showing that the federal government is now spending more than $20,000 per household a year, a rate it claims was exceeded only during World War II.

While NASA's spending is less than 1 percent of the federal budget, the $16.2 billion the president proposes to spend in FY 05 is a tempting target for those on Capitol Hill who want to find a cheap way to display their fiscal virtue.

Since 1998, according to Heritage, the Education and Agriculture budgets have increased 72 percent and 76 percent, respectively, while NASA's budget (not mentioned in the study) has stagnated, with less than 1 percent real growth.

According to the Bush plan, the space agency's budget will increase 5 percent in 2005 and 2006 and then revert to its traditional 1 percent increase. This will give NASA a $18 billion budget in 2009, coincidentally exactly the total advocated by Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski when she complained that President Bush was not spending enough on civilian space.

The problem for space advocates is that neither NASA nor the president is making the strongest possible case for its visionary program. The agency wants to "... advance U.S. scientific, security and economic interests through a robust space exploration program."

This statement does nothing to clearly explain the connection between America's national interest and the proposed exploration program. Unless a broad segment of the American public is convinced that this program is of direct benefit to them, it will not be possible to sustain even the modest budget increases proposed by the Bush administration.

For years, if not for decades, the space community has been trying to justify its efforts by claiming that the science and technology America gets from space make the program worth the cost. In fact the science, while useful, has not given the American people the return on investment they were led to expect. The payoff from space technology has been much easier to explain.

The medical breakthroughs connected to the space program are rightly celebrated by NASA. The technological spin-offs for America's national security also have been easy to point to. For example, it is impossible to imagine that the Pentagon's Navstar/GPS program would have been as successful as it is without NASA's pioneering work.

The core justification for this space program's objectives is embodied in the idea that America will "extend human presence across the solar system." This could be the charter for a new 'spacefaring' civilization. The ones we have here on Earth are either colliding with each other, collapsing from within, or doing both at the same time.

Western civilization is finding ever more creative ways to be decadent, while major parts of Islamic civilization bubble over with envy, rage and hate. China, a civilization unto itself, has for the moment integrated a capitalistic bubble economy within a one-party communist political system, which probably will not last for long.

A new human civilization beyond Earth's atmosphere, influenced by American pioneering values and by the basic human desire to build a better life, will shift the long-term balance of power away from the angry dictators and would-be dictators of this world toward the free and potentially free peoples of planet Earth. The safety of the American people requires this evolution.

In the short and medium term these space exploration objectives, if followed, will become one of the foundation stones of America's future spacepower. Like British 19th century seapower, spacepower is not simply a matter for the military; it has commercial, civil, scientific and colonial aspects. Exploration is as important to future space situational awareness as Captain Cook's voyages were to the global geographic knowledge of the British Admiralty.

Without such a visionary program it is hard to imagine the U.S. staying at the top of the geopolitical food chain for the next 100years or more. As the world's leading power the U.S. must, by its example, show the way to a free and prosperous future for all the peoples of Earth. At this moment in history America is the only nation with the will and the resources to expand humanity's home environment.

Every decade our species remains confined to this planet, the pressure for violent solutions to humanity's many problems increases. While it is certain that people will carry with them into space many of the petty prejudices and dysfunctional attitudes they possess here on Earth, in space these will either change out of all recognition or the people who hold onto their old hatreds will simply not survive.

America's best values will either spread into the solar system or they will wither away here on Earth. That is the long-term case Bush and his team must explain to the American people.

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He hoped that after the election in November the situationmight be improve, but until then the best that can be expectedis thatmajor damageto the project is avoided. This will be pretty difficult since the 5 percent increase in NASA's budget stands in conspicuous contrast...
Bush's,Space,Vision,and,America's,Future
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2004-00-15
Sunday, 15 February 2004 12:00 AM
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