Martian nitpicks

Riding on past lunar glory, stuck in orbit around the Earth, and crestfallen because of recent tragedies, NASA needed a kick in the pants —- which is what Bush gave it this last week.

Instead of cheering a bold new venture, and being constructive, this move was mostly met with cynical skepticism.

Andrew Sullivan, understandably ticked by Bush's recent spending spree, vented thus:

I guess I should say I have no problem in principle with government-funded space exploration. But the full costs of this will explode in a decade or so, at exactly the same time that social security is cratering and Medicare is going bankrupt. If the president were proposing means-testing social security, raising the retirement age, restraining Medicare growth, ending subsidies for big agriculture and tackling corporate welfare, I'd be happy to go along with a new space program.

NASA's budget is about $15 billion, and at a paltry increase rate of 3-4%, touches a projected $18 billion by 2008. To put things in perspective, the recently approved Medicare bill costs about $400 billion, and the estimated Social Security budget for 2004 is $410 billion. A look at this PDF will show that most of the money for Mars is coming not from drastic NASA budget increases, but by cutting down some existing programs (the shuttle, ISS), and putting them into what NASA should really be doing --- space exploration.

There is a bright side, in case you were wondering, as Krauthammer, once more going against the grain, points out:

Establishing the first human habitation on a celestial body would not just allow for extraordinarily interesting science (from geology to astronomy) and be the locus for extraterrestrial manufacture. It would be -- those without an ounce of romance in their souls are advised to skip the rest of this sentence -- the most glorious human adventure since the Age of Exploration five centuries ago.

This is once again the age-old battle between the wanderlust-struck and the homebound, between those looking starward and those shuffling pebbles in the dirt. Had it not been for the former there would be no New World, no "great step for mankind". And that settles it for me.

Posted by Vivek at January 18, 2004 6:11 PM