The wrong leap for mankind
There's a joke going around the internet that tells of George W. Bush proposing an ambitious mission to colonize the sun. When an advisor warns that a solar landing would result in a fiery disaster, Bush answers, "That's OK; we'll do it at night." Bush's new fixation on a mission to the moon is so peculiar, so wildly out of touch with the needs and ambitions of America today, that you can't help but consider it a joke. Especially when you hear his anachronistic statement at NASA today: "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 to the worlds beyond our own." (When I envision him giving this speech, he's decked out in a shimmering silver Buck Rogers unitard and bubble helmet.)

But it's not that funny: an expensive mission to the moon isn't a case of boldly going where no man has gone before--we've already been there!--but it is a giant leap for mankind. In the wrong direction.

The pricetag for setting foot on the moon by 2015 and Mars after that is estimated at as high as $500 billion--roughly the same amount as our, er, skyrocketing, national deficit. And that figure is sure to balloon if the accounting for our other flirtation with Mars--the god of war, that is--is any indication.

Marian Wright Edelman, of the Children's Defense Fund, says, "This is the wrong priority for America at a time when its children are facing so many challenges and our federal deficit is reaching record high levels." Even conservatives aren't keen on the plan: Stephen Moore from the Club for Growth criticized, "It's just a total fiscal absurdity. Bush has been spending money like we've got money to burn, and we don't." We'd have money for kindling if Bush hadn't insisted on such generous tax cuts--totalling $1.7 trillion over ten years.

Of course, people at NASA, the agency that almost a year ago saw seven astronauts killed when the Shuttle exploded, seem to think it's a worthwhile expenditure. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said Bush's initial plan--a $1 billion bump in NASA's $15 billion budget over five years, plus the reallocation of $11 billion from other areas within the agency's $86 billion 5-year budget--compares the impact for taxpayers to "the cost of a monthly cable television payment," about fifty bucks a month.

Needless to say, some of us can't afford cable. Or food or shelter or... defending our borders? A late November report showed that New York remains the number-one international target for terrorism, yet homeland security spending there, per person, ranks among the lowest in the US. Of $900 million New York City officials say they need for counter-terrorism measures, they've received only $84 million. If put toward more immediate needs, NASA's cash could help prevent another September 11, yet the president, worried more about "the vision thing" that ended his dad's career than life on planet Earth, doesn't seem interested. There is certainly merit in the notion that "mankind belongs in space, and Americans, long the optimists of the frontier, must lead the way," as an editorial in the Washington Times (published, coincidentally, by Rev. Moon) put it. But with so many frontiers before us--jobs, an economic slump, terrorism--the next time the Eagle lands, I hope it'll be right here.

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